Lihn was starting to feel old.
She knew, or at least suspected, that she wasn’t that old. Not even thirty yet, probably. Twenty-six? Was that right? Numbers had never been that easy for her, and when every day was about kicking flea-infested rats out of your soggy living space, numbers never seemed that important.
Besides, ‘lots of flea bites’ was a better thing to focus on than ‘one hundred and thirty-eight flea bites”.
But she suspected that this feeling, this feeling of slow, bone-creaking old, had more to do with how she lived her life and less to do with how much of it there had been. Twenty-whatever wasn’t old, but twenty-whatevers of dirty cobbles, strange lumps, insect bites, and fevers in the rain would wear anyone out.
No one lived very long on the streets.
“Da Albert” was the oldest beggar she knew of. He had never counted his age, but Lihn suspected that he was just over the middle of a normal person’s life. But it wasn’t ‘just over the middle’ for Da Albert. It was hard to tell past the wild bushy mane of white and grey hair that surrounded his face, but it was probable he didn’t have much longer in this world.
The streets aged you twice as fast, and put four times as much effort into killing you before the age did.
So it was stupid, really, to live on them when you were one of the only people who had a choice.
She was solely responsible for killing herself prematurely, and strangely, she couldn’t find it in herself to care. She didn’t want to die, certainly, but she was starting to wonder what the point in sticking around was. A lot of her friends had died. Maybe they were onto something.
She needed something new to latch onto, that was the ticket. Something to care for. A kid, a dog, a dark and mysterious stranger thigh-deep in nefarious plots. She couldn’t stand being alone, because keeping the company of herself was downright depressing.
Who in their right mind would want to spend every waking minute with a madwoman, after all? She wouldn’t wish it on anyone, least of all herself.
The house was small, less of a cottage and more of a sturdy hut, but it was undeniably cozy.
It was about ten feet wide, or just over two Margarets, and double that the long way. The door had no hinges and had to be braced in place, and the windows were protected by shutters instead of glass. The floor was dirt, but covered in thick woven mats, and the walls- made mostly of stone and clay- were thick and sturdy and didn’t run in the rain.
It had taken Margaret the better part of a year to build the house, and now the rest of her free time was spent making sure it didn’t fall down again.
But when the morning sun, broken up by the leaves of the forest around her, streamed through the open windows and split into rainbows through her hanging glass bottles, she knew it was worth it.
The house was situated in the forest some six miles from Dol Amroth. It was far enough inland that one wasn’t really aware of the ocean while they were there, and the forested hills kept her well hidden. She wasn’t sure whose land this was, but she hadn’t made any effort to find out and didn’t intend to pay any taxes.
There wasn’t a proper road anywhere around her, and the nearest river- more of a stream, really- was a mile off. There was nothing of interest to anybody around her house, which was precisely why she had built it there.
She was alone, and it was wonderful.
Not completely, of course. She spent her days gathering herbs and creating tonics that she would bundle together twice a month and sell in Dol Amroth. While she was there, she would stop by to see Maludir, who had all of his outrageous duties to attend to. And after she had kissed him and fed him and played with his hair a little, she would gather together her earnings and supplies and disappear back into the woods, where life was quieter and safer.
Maludir would come to see her, too. Those times were her favorite. She would make a seasoned rabbit broth or fish garlic toast, and they could sit outside in the night and catch glimpses of the stars above the leafy canopy. She would tell him stories of her grandmother and her travels, and he would tell her about Dol Amroth and Carmanadh and his family.
And she could almost, almost, pretend they were free together, though he would never be.