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Chapter 7. Alas! for the Gulls. No Peace Shall I Have…
Turambor, greengrocer of the Second Circle market, looked up at a not-too-distant rumble and scowled. ‘Those engineers,’ he said to his wife, Eliniel, tying up herbs in bunches with the fumbling help of their little ones. He counted noses, yes, all of the girls stood circled round his wife, and the boys were with their uncle, safely outside the City walls, inspecting arriving farm wains and intercepting the best of the produce for the Second Circle market. None of his little ones were free, then, and playing about (though they had strict instructions not to) the ruined buildings not yet pulled down, or still under repair. The First Circle, of course, had been nearly a total loss and would have to be rebuilt from the cracked and fire-scorched foundations. Parts of the Second Circle were badly damaged from the missiles thrown by the Enemy’s siege engines, some heavy rock shod with metal, others of burning oil, raining fire on their heads as the fate of the City hung in peril, unnumbered Orcs and Men outside the Gate, under the direction of their terrible Captain.
The greengrocer’s own house had been damaged in the siege, the spring rains now kept off his family’s heads by a temporary roof patched together with tenting material, after the Army of the West returned from the Black Gate and the Steward declared a quantity of the army’s supplies as “surplus”. Turambor wondered how long it would be, before his dwelling was whole once more. Hopefully before the chill of autumn rains set in…
‘Turam,’ Eliniel said gently, with a tug for her husband’s sleeve, and he came to himself with a start.
‘I’m sorry, my love, I lost myself again,’ he said, patting her hand. ‘What was I saying?’
‘I don’t recall,’ Eliniel said, and then directed her attention to the girls. ‘That’s right, Seledrith, pull tight on the string and Ailuin, you put your finger down firm, that’s the girl, until Sellah finishes the knot…’
Turambor smiled sadly at his youngest daughter, newly adopted into his family after her parents had perished in the siege. Her father had been a soldier, her mother a healer who found her husband’s head, branded with the awful Eye, rolling in the street during a grisly barrage. The little one, who’d been hidden away in the Houses of Healing instead of taken away in the wains to dubious safety, stood nestled under Eliniel’s arm, silent and solemn, though she dutifully held her finger on the knot Seledrith was carefully tying. The greengrocer reflected that there was more damage left from the siege, than the obvious burned and shattered buildings. And not just the siege… Memories of battle arose unbidden, and he suppressed a shudder and firmly pressed them down once more, focusing on the blessings of the here and the now. He forced more brightness into his smile, lest one of the children should notice his mood, and said heartily, ‘That’s the way! Pretty nosegays of herbs for our neighbours – tied up with bows, to brighten their homes until wanted in the pot!’
‘Only these will hang from the beams, rather than stand in a vase,’ Seledrith said, for she was a practical child. ‘In a vase they’d rot, and be wasted!’
‘Quite so, quite so!’ Turambor said, his eye going to the cloud of dust rising just across the way from the marketplace, and a little down the street. The Inn at the Market, it was, near his favourite drinking establishment, the Owl and Barncat. Former favourite, that is... like so many buildings in the Second Circle, the public house, frequented by generations of Guardsmen of the City and tradesmen alike for long years before the Battle of the Pelennor, awaited repairs, though not so hopeless a cause as the inn's damaged wing. They ought to pull down the damaged part completely, rather than leaving that dangerous ruin to fester and blight the neighbourhood. Then the undamaged part might be used to house those left homeless, at least until their homes could be rebuilt or repaired. But then, Second Circle was a long way from the Citadel, and the notice of the nobles and the King’s engineers… ‘Look lively, now! Your Uncle Calendil will be back very soon, and the Market will open soon after!’
‘We have a goodly supply of herbs, ready for the selling,’ Eliniel said comfortably, and bestowed a smile around her circle of daughters, all adopted at various times since her marriage to Turambor, but all children of her heart. She stood up from her stool and stretched, then added, ‘Let us lay them out on the herb table, shall we?’ She picked up the large basket and walked out into the Market, a plump and motherly hen followed by an assortment of chicks.
It was not long before Eliniel’s brother returned with nephews and several goat-drawn carts full of spring produce: strawberries and spring onions and peas and salad greens, still damp with dew and glowing with freshness. Strawberries! Though the besieging Orcs had despoiled as much of the countryside as they passed through, they hadn’t been able to ruin all… And with the farmers reclaiming their lands and replanting, next year’s market days would be all the more. There were melons, too, picked green and brought from Southern lands on ships seized from the Corsairs and turned to merchant uses, and other produce not seen in the White City in years.
The greengrocer put away dark thoughts of the past and gladly arranged his wares in a fresh, bright rainbow of sorts. ‘You did well, brother,’ he said, slapping Calendil on the shoulder as they stood back to view the result. ‘Very well!’
‘T’would be difficult not to do well, with such a jostling at the Gate,’ Calendil replied. ‘So much to choose from! So many farmers and merchants, bringing their wares to the City! And then of course, Turgon knows me well enough to let me through again without needing to wait in a long line for his inspection…’
And suddenly they were plunged into the business of the day, and Turambor and his family were busy with selling and replenishing the tables and tying up purchases – and the two older boys and their uncle came and went, delivering some of the larger orders to their destinations. There was, of course, the usual Market talk that went on between customers and merchants, or during lulls between the various sellers. The ambassadors of Far, Middle, and Near Harad would be parading through the streets from their encampments outside the Walls to the King’s banquet hall, after the close of Market. Eliniel made plans with the children to stand at the side of the street and wave bright cloths in celebration and welcome.
‘Fancy us welcoming them!’ Luinion, a weaver said in an undertone to Turambor during a quiet moment. ‘I never thought I’d see the day…’
‘I did,’ Turambor said briefly, and if Luinion chose to believe his words as expressing faith in victory over the Dark Lord, or the fatalism that had seized many in the City in those last days under Denethor, well, the greengrocer was keeping his thoughts firmly in the here-and-now at present, and did not care to elaborate.
No more clouds of dust arose from the damaged buildings skirting the marketplace. Turambor and Calendil took turns away from the stand, to go over their own home thoroughly, checking for new cracks in the walls, tapping at the bracing timbers to make certain they were holding firm. It might be better simply to sleep under canvas in the open marketplace… but an engineer of the King had pronounced the walls and foundation of the greengrocer’s dwelling to be “sound” despite the missing parts of the roof. “It can wait,” the Man had said. “There are other needs more pressing.”
The noise began not long after the morning buying and selling died down to a trickle of business. (On the other hand, perhaps some noise had gone on while the market was bustling, but went unheard or unnoticed until the relative quiet of midday.)
‘What is that mournful sound?’ Eliniel said, pausing in the distribution of soup and bread around the family table. They were eating under the open sky this fine spring day. Turambor and Calendil had moved the table and benches outside, “to enjoy the sunshine” as they told the children, and in fact it was a bright day, with a gentle breeze that sometimes carried a sad, sobbing wail to their ears when it blew from a certain direction. Calendil had been bothered enough to go in search of the source as the children were setting the table for the daymeal, but as luck would have it, the sound had ceased as he began his efforts, and the young man had shrugged as he sat himself down once more, a few moments earlier.
‘P’rhaps it’s the wind, blowing through a hole,’ Turambor said, taking up a breadroll and breaking it into pieces, the better to sop up his wife’s excellent cookery.
‘I never heard it before,’ Seledrith said.
‘Might be a new-made hole,’ Calendil said. ‘Some more of the inn fell in, it looked like…’
‘Inn-fell-in!’ young Turamir chortled, subsiding under a look from his father, Not a laughing business, my boy…
Eliniel’s lips set in a thin line, before she shook herself and briskly dealt out soup and bread. Thankfully, the noise subsided once more, and the breeze blew only quiet conversation from other vendors and their families in the greengrocers' direction. Eliniel, however, was evidently not completely reassured. Leaving her own place, she stopped at Turambor’s side and bent to whisper in his ear. ‘You don’t suppose something got caught under? A child?’
He turned to meet her look of concern. ‘Doesn’t sound like a child,’ he said. ‘Or perhaps I ought to say didn’t. What ever it was, it’s stopped for now. I don’t hear anything, do you?’
‘T’wasn’t a child,’ Calendil said dismissively. ‘A pup, perhaps…’
‘A pup!’ young Targil said in dismay, rising from his seat, echoed by one or two of the other young ones.
‘Or a bird, more likely,’ Calendil said. ‘High-pitched as it was, it sounded a little like a bird…’ Somehow he managed to calm the children into eating, emphasizing that the bird had likely flown away again, for the sound had ceased while he was searching for the source.
In any event, the market square was relatively quiet for the rest of the daymeal and the rest period that followed, quiet enough that Turambor himself began to believe the sound had come from a bird, perhaps one of the gulls that flew high above the City at times. They could occasionally hear the cry of a gull above the bustle of the marketplace, moreso now that peace reigned the countryside and fishermen came up the great River once more, to bring their catch to the markets of the City. Yes, a bird. That must have been what they’d heard, and mournful enough to trouble an Elf, but there were customers to see to, and greens to freshen with a sprinkle of water, and a jongleur had stationed himself nearby, with a laughing, shouting crowd loud enough to drown out even the cries of a seagull flying directly overhead.
Turambor looked up at a flash of white above, yes, a gull it was, bright against the blue of the springtide sky. He shook his head at himself, then, having once again given in to the dark imaginings that had haunted him since his return from battle. Just a gull, he said to himself. Stop thinking the worst…
He met Calendil’s eye and lifted one side of his mouth in a grim smile. The younger Man nodded in understanding – he’d been out there, by Turambor’s side, lifting swords heavy with hopeless determination, as the wave of hill trolls broke over them and Beregond, their Captain, had been seized and hoisted high into the air, on his way to an interrupted doom. Calendil, too, was prone to think the worst – which was why he’d gone out looking for a trapped child or animal when he first noticed the sounds.
Turambor looked up at a question about his herbs, and assuming a pleasant, interested expression, he began to pontificate on various recipes that would be improved by the combination of herbs in the indicated bundle. All the while, in the back of his mind, he was listening for the song of the gull above, and scolding himself. You bloody fool! Stop thinking the worst…
A/N: Title taken from Legolas' words in "The Last Debate" in The Return of the King. Turambor and his family first appeared in Just Desserts, a story set in the Northern Kingdom during Pippin's time as Thain.
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