Loëndë (Midyear), T.A. 1640
Clarissa was standing by a fenced in paddock, admiring a deep chested roan stallion with a blond mane that was stamping it's front left foot and periodically running about the paddock, anxious for having been confined in such a relatively enclosed space. Despite the size of the field in which it was currently in, it seemed to have eyes only for the what was denied it - that being the whatever was beyond the fence. Having been born with a spirit and wanderlust herself, Clarissa found herself empathizing with the stallion's plight.
Another group of people were admiring the animal. It was obvious that they had designs on him since they were speculating on putting a yoke to him and making him work at this or that task. Clarissa was no horsewoman; but it seemed obvious to her that such uses would be a waste of a fine riding animal - if not downright cruel to it's almost wild spirit.
"Beautiful animal, isn't he," a man said, coming up and leaning on the fence right beside Clarissa.
Clarissa only glanced at him; but one glance was enough to take her breath away. He was tall and gorgeous - like one of the gods that some Northmen prayed to. His fine golden hair fell about his broad shoulders like a halo while thick muscular arms rippled as he grasped the boards of the fence to lean upon them.
Clarissa nodded her obvious agreement to his statement and then realized that he was speaking about the horse and not himself. Of course, she agreed with that as well.
The man gave a disapproving look to the group of farmers that were just now moving off. Clarissa looked and saw that they had been looking at her as well. She couldn't help feeling that there had been some hostility; but as they looked quickly away, she couldn't be sure.
"They intend to make a plow animal out of that fine horse," the man told her. "They only see it for its' strength, not seeing the beautiful spirit in it. That horse would make a fine mount for a king - or at least should be studded out for breeding stock. If they get their hands on it - it will be broken by severity in just a few seasons."
"How much would they bid for it?" Clarissa asked him, concerned for the animal.
"He isn't for sale, is my understanding. My name is Lotherick." He smiled.
Clarissa tried to hide her return smile in her hand as she replied, feeling that it came upon her so suddenly. "Clarissa," she mumbled.
"Very charmed to meet you. I saw you last night in the common room. Regrettably, I was tired and couldn't linger but I'm glad to see that you stayed on for the faire."
He turned his attention back to the stallion.
"His name is Windreaver. He's to be given as a prize to whoever is chosen as the prettiest maiden. I suppose to be added to that maiden's dowry - or to be sold by her for money for such."
"Really?" Clarissa blushed. "I'm in that contest."
"Well then, I should congratulate you. The animal is most assuredly yours. I'm glad to hear that you entered. I was going to try and talk you into it, otherwise. Really, it would be criminal to let those farmers have him."
"I thank you for your compliment," Clarissa replied. "But my understanding is that the fairest maiden will be chosen for grace and talent as well as beauty." She cast her eyes around the many pretty young ladies walking about. "Certainly, the horse is not assuredly mine. How talented is that farmer's daughter?"
Lotherick nodded to over where the farmers were busy taking over a table by evicting a young couple and their baby. "That's Farmer Gillum's daughter over there. Her name is Jaina and she is as talented as she is beautiful."
Clarissa looked over at this rival and, involuntarily, she grimaced - feeling at once terribly embarrassed for the poor girl - who took no pains to hide her pimpled and pockmarked face, giving a gap toothed smile at the rough antics of those whom Clarissa supposed were her brothers. Her body was rather shapeless and her complexion ruddy and rough from a life of work. Though these were marks of honour to her sturdiness - Clarissa couldn't imagine that any group would find much favor in her for beauty.
"I feel rather embarrassed for her," Clarissa stated. "Why would her family put her up to such ridicule?"
"Two of the five judges are her cousins," Lotherick told Clarissa.
"Oh," Clarissa replied.
Clarissa started to lose hope, the horse was magnificent, and wanted if not for selfish reasons to have such a mount, then to save it from the farmers' intended purpose. What a horrible fate for such a wonderfull creature.
Clarissa had to win, but how, two judges are cousins to one contestent, and who knows about the other three? Clarissa decided the contest was her top priority. For a moment she wondered excatly what to do about it. She was not overly talented, should she tell a poem, or try to sing? She had a fair voice, but it was untrained. She started to worry. And the Dress! What dress to wear! She looked at the Roan. She had to win.
She turned to Lotheric
"I want to win this contest. How long until the competition begins?"
"You have a couple of hours, surely," he replied.
"Her mind was racing, she had only one dress, but was it good enough, and some of the farmers obviously disdained her, threatening their prize, she would watch out for them.
Just then, Fred came up, out of breath and panting.
"Clarissa, big, smelly, men...crushed egg...Jaina must win...skin me alive...too many," he said.
Clarissa was angry; how dare they pick on poor Fred. She wondered what to do. Looking about to see if anyone was watching her, she spied Lotheric and went back over to speak to him.
"Lotheric? How well do you know the locals here" She asked in a leading way. "Do you think any of them would harm me or my dear friend Fred, the hobbit over yonder?"
Lotheric took a quick glance at Fred.
"Well, halflings - did you say hobbit? What a funny name. Anyway, these halflings aren't too popular in these parts. The lands that were deeded to them by the King had claims on them - mostly by the Tarma clan. But Lord Eketta had some claims too; and he has taken a particular dislike to their people, likening them to rodents, I hear."
Lotheric gave Fred a concerned look.
"Did you want to introduce me to your friend?" he offered. "Perhaps I can offer some help - to smooth over any differences."
"Fred....Fred" Clarissa called out, motioning the hobbit to come over to join their converstation.
"Lotheric, this is Fred, my friend, and Fred, Lotheric"
Fred presentsed his hand and said, "A pleasure to meet you." Looking over at Clarissa he continued, "But what does this have to do with the farmers?"
Lotheric said, "I hear you've been having some problems with them. I was telling Clarissa here that we are near Eketta lands. Halflings were never fondly seen by that clan. Excuse me, but what is that on your face?"
"I have egg on my face... in a different way then usual. The farmer and his sons threatened to skin me alive if his daughter lost to Clarissa. I am still not making the connection between Lotherick and this situation I am afraid. They were not upset with me as far as I could tell."
Lotheric frowned, pursing his lip as if in thought.
"I have no connection beyond that of a fellow traveller and a man who would see justice done. Farmer Gillum, he's the one you're speaking of. He's a bully and a lout - but he's rich and he has many kinsmen in these parts. Your travels for many leagues in any direction would be hampered or endangered if you should fall afoul of him."
Looking toward Clarissa and then to Fred, he asked, "You'll have to both decide how much winning is worth to you. What do you say then?" he asked of both Clarissa and Fred.
Clarissa was silent, thinking, a disturbed look on her face. "Danger be damned, I won't let such a fine horse fall to such men, I want to compete, and win, that is.." Clarissa hesitated, realizing that she did indeed hadn't yet won; feeling a little upset at herself for thinking that she was too confident in winning. "...that is... If I even do win," she added rather meekly.
Fred still seemed a little confused by this whole conversation. He mumbled that perhaps a distraction would be in order. Turning to Clarissa he asked: "What horse?"
"That horse!" Clarissa exclaimed, pointing toward a magnificiant horse corraled nearby. "His name is Windreaver, isn't he beautiful!" She continued to look at the beautiful roan stallion. A horse fit for a king.
"It goes to the winner of the most beautiful maiden contest, there are some farmers that wish it to go to a local girl here, so they may use Windreaver in their plow fields! That is why they threatened you; they think I may win this contest and steal their precious beast of burden. I just can't let them do that. Phooey on their threats! I want to win, and am going to enter."
Clarissa looked at Fred and back to Lotheric, feeling foolish for a moment, but still determined.
Fred stopped to catch his breath. "Clarissa, they said you had to lose, they said they'd skin me alive if you won. And probably you too...."
Clarissa stopped, her expression frozen then one slowly turning to anger. It was those farmers! How mean and dirty! "
"Fred, it is ok, no one is going to hurt you, or me..." She glanced at the horse... "Or that horse!"
I'll help you as best I can," Lotheric added, revealing to be what looked like a short sword or long knife beneath his tunic. "But let us hope that it does not come to that. Now, what is our plan?"
But at that point, Fred begged off, desiring to continue his search for another egg. Clarissa grew silent as if in deep thought.
Loende (Midyear) T.A. 1640
Clarissa decided to walk about to get her mind off of the horse and the prettiest maiden contest. She did want to win the prize, if only to save the poor stallion from a fate of long cruel field work. She wandered about the faire, delighting in the scenes that were all about her. The activities were picking up. People everywhere were looking at the multitude of displays that were about, and she lost herself in the faire's splendid environment.
Thinking of a late morning snack, she wandered past a few booths, the smell of the foods offered for sale were pleasant enough. Buying a sweet roll, she moved onward, when a juggling act caught her attention. Acrobats and jugglers put on a splendid show. One man in particular seem to catch the attentions of several of the women. Clarissa smiled, noticing the jealous looks many young man cast toward the handsome performer.
"Excuse me" A woman asked Clarissa. Turning, Clarissa looked at her, noticing a look of deep concern. She was a young woman, not yet middle aged, but a hard life was showing through her fair skin. The woman continued once she had Clarissa's attention.
"I've been asking everyone if they've seen my daughter. She's a young girl in a blue dress, with long brown hair in her braids? Her name is Annveth."
Clarissa was shaking her head no even before the woman had finished; and the woman quickly went off into the crowd inquiring further. Clarissa stopped looking at the performance, reflecting on the concern the mother had shown.
Taking a look around, she saw the large crowds about her. Hopefully she finds the young girl, Clarissa thought. Clarissa wondered away from the performance, keeping an eye out for an Annveth. As Clarissa wandered amongst the festivities, her mind never forgot the look on the mother's face, and occasionally she heard a distant call, "Annie, Annie, where are you!"
Clarissa spied a hut with men lined up to have their fortunes told. Perhaps the old woman could tell where her daughter was. Clarissa did not trust such fortunes, and knew to stay away from such people. She had secrets that needed to remain as such.
After passing a ridiculous exhibit of a man wrestling a bear, where the bear was handicapped with no claws or teeth, and she was sure in a weakened state as well, she discovered a weapons display. Clarissa knew someday she would need a good sword. She had very limited knowledge in fighting skills, but was determined to become a proficient swordswoman. She approached the weapons display. It was getting a little crowded as it had attracted the attention of every farm boy in the area, and a few scarred veterans as well. The veterans though were content to just look, a forlorn look of sadness in their eyes. She asked to examine a fine looking broadsword, and while holding it, she realized with great embarrassment that she had attracted the attention of every male around her.
Dressed for the comeliest maiden contest, Clarissa was a paradox of images while holding the broadsword. She quickly returned the sword and quietly left, ignoring the varying degrees of looks the men gave to her.
She heard the start of the contest, and knew that she should slowly make her way back to her companions. It would be no matter of time at all before her contest would begin.
A conversation caught her attention, a group of Dwarves and a rough looking man were selling furs to a group of farmers and a couple of women. During the bartering, she heard that the furs had come from Numeriador. She wanted to travel to those lands very much, and lingered, watching the dwarves mostly, hoping to hear some stories. She stood quietly for a few moments, watching the sales, realizing that these travelers probably had no interest in fulfilling a girl's curiosity on distant lands.
Wandering again, she passed more booths, some ordinary, others near comical. The action at one booth made her smile. Several young men were listening to a merchant discuss his love potion. That is just what the world needed, young men armed with such elixirs, she thought. Across from the booth an attractive mother with her infant was selling cakes and pastries. Clarissa cursed herself. The items displayed seemed much more delicious then the sweet roll she had just consumed. Perhaps later. She smiled at the woman and the baby, recognizing the joy the woman had holding the infant. Clarissa was somewhat jealous, feeling she would probably never experience such joy in her life. To her fell another path.
Wandering through the market, she noted that quantity of wares being sold were enormous. Almost everything imaginable was on sale or for trade here.
A commotion broke out, and people made a circle around two men fighting. Clarissa found herself an unwitting witness with a close view. An older man was fighting a younger handsome man, and the older man was getting the better of him, using his fist much more effectively. The crowd was cheering loudly; some had picked sides, calling insults or encouragement. Then before anyone could really recognize what occurred, the older man was sinking to the ground, a lethal knife wound to the chest. Clarissa watched in shock as the man died clutching the mortal wound. She looked at the young man, who looked in horror at what he had done, gasping that he hadn't intended to kill the man, and just wanted to teach him a lesson. The young man was lead away to be held, until judgment and sentencing would be issued. It didn't look good. Shocked, people were talking. A fight was one thing - but murder...! All it seemed knew the young man, though the older man was a stranger in these parts.
"What was this about?" Clarissa asked a woman next to her.
"It was over a woman, I think the younger man's wife. Poor girl, I know her, she just had a new baby, she is nearby in a booth selling pastries. What will become of her now?"
"Was it the woman down that path?" Clarissa pointed.
"Yes, it is, poor, poor girl, oh such a tragedy, why...?" the woman muttered and went off.
Clarissa was sad. She wondered what would happen. She found herself walking back to the booth where the woman was. As she quietly walked, she reflected that the faire, though joyous and festive, still had it's quiet tragedies.
The booth was empty, only a man, looking sadly down to the ground, stood before it. She and the baby were gone. The man had apparently just told her the bad news. Perhaps there was a jail nearby, and Clarissa wandered back in the direction to where the man had been taken. She didn't know why, but she wanted to help the poor woman and her child.
She almost forgot the time, but saw a sign listing the contest in order, and knew she had more time than she thought, since the day was still quite young. Not looking to where she was going, thinking of the poor woman and child, she turned a corner and bumped into a small lad carrying caged birds. She tripped over the poor boy, causing him to fall and drop the cages he was carrying. What was worse was that she landed on pile of cages, breaking them and letting the birds escape. There were several brightly colored songbirds flying into the air. She wasn't certain how many, but she figured they must of been expensive by the looks of them.
"Now look what you've done." the boy wailed at Clarissa. The boy of about 7 years was crying, tears running down his face. "My father will whip me now. He'll blame me for loosing the birds."
"Why, it was clearly my fault, You should not be punished for actions you had no control over," Clarissa remarked, trying to sooth the distraught boy.
"But he won't believe me," the boy insisted. "We've been all last fall catching those birds to sell them at this faire."
Oh dear, Clarissa thought, I've done it now. "It is alright, really. I will tell your father it is not your fault."
"Its no use. I am in for a beating now!" The boy was sobbing loudly now, and a few people had slowed in passing to see what the noise was about.
The boy picked up the wrecked cages and his gaze fell downward, tears still trickling down his face.
"I will tell your father it is my fault, and I will see about paying for them." Clarissa wasn't sure if she had the money. Actually she was positive she didn't. She only had enough to buy food for the day, and that had come from Fred.
But she was determined to help the boy and see that he would not be punished for her error.
"If you really want to help", he told her. "You can tell my father that it was your fault that the birds were lost. You're pretty and he will believe you more than he would me. He thinks I am lazy and stupid and that I get into trouble because I want to." He reluctantly looked toward the area where the merchants had set up tables and tents, as if afraid to go in that direction.
"I will do this. Lead me to him, and I will promise that I will explain. And I don't think you are lazy or stupid, but brave. I would have run away if I thought my father would beat me for something not my fault. Yet you were willing to face an unjust wrath. I think that is brave and honorable."
This brought some ease to the boy . "My father is working with a bunch of dwarves buying grain. If you really mean what you say about helping me, come there and tell him you're the one who lost the birds. Don't worry, he won't spank you. He only spanks me - and only when he thinks I've been bad. But this time it is not my fault. It's not fair."
Clarissa was somewhat comforted by these words. The boy's worlds had given clues that his father was not a brute. But then she was going to shortly find out as she had not intention of abandoning the lad to an undeserved punishment.
Clarissa followed the boy into the merchant's area.
"Oh, by the way, did you happen to see a young girl, in a blue dress, with long brown hair in braids answers to the name of Annie or Annveth?" Clarissa asked. After this she decided she would visit the jail as well, feeling there must still be more behind the tragedy of the young woman and her husband than her eyes had yet revealed.