The Reeve of Newhome raised a hand, and called off the attack.
There was a moment of uncertaintysome of the Watch were
reluctant, having drawn their swords, to sheathe them without
drawing blood, and some of Mas followers were still goading
them onbut Arador slipped past Ma and her sons and walked
forward alone, and the Reeve slid his sword back into its scabbard
and came to meet him, and gave him a perfunctory hug.
Whatever that woman has been telling you, the Reeve
began, addressing Legolas.
She has told me nothing, Legolas replied. He glanced
at Eowyn; Eowyn shook her head. But I think it is time
that one of you explained what is going on here.
How about a nice cup of tea, dear? said Ma, as
though the past few minutes had never happened.
The Reeve dismissed the Watch with strict orders to round up
their horses and return home.
Ma sent her people back to work, and led her guestsincluding
a very out-of-place and thoroughly uncomfortable-looking Belecthorto
one of the stone buildings.
The dwelling inside was neat and clean, with a well-blacked
cooking range, a wooden table scrubbed almost white, lace-edged
cloths and embroidered seat-cushionsthough, even here,
blue had seeped in through the shutters and under the
door, and had settled in a fine layer on the floor and over
Ma made everyone sit down, and busied herself making the tea,
warming the pot with a little hot water before she spooned in
the tea leaves, added the boiling water, and let it brew for
a few moments.
Ill be mother, shall I? she said, when it
was ready, pouring it into dainty little cups and handing them
round. Help yourselves to milk and sugar.
Legolas politely took a sip before setting the cup and saucer
down on the table. Perhaps now you will tell us, Mistress,
he said, what you are doing out there?
Making blue, said Ma. Then, when she noticed
that Legolas was still looking blank, she added, as though speaking
to a simpleton, Laundry blue.
She offered him a biscuit.
I am sorry, he said, taking one and putting it
on his saucer. What is laundry blue?
Noble folks! said Ma. You want everything
whiter than white, but you never stop to think how its
done! Washerwomen put laundry blue into the final rinse,
to banish any hint of yellowso that the linens look fresh.
Legolas and Eowyn exchanged glances.
And you are making it? said Eowyn. Here?
A hundred and twenty-five pounds of it a week,
said Ma, proudly. Two thousand ounces. Its a long
and complicated business. She settled back in her chair.
Of course, the real stuffs made from a natural blue
stone. What we make here is a fake bluefrom clay,
and caustic soda, pitch and, well, a few other things. We have
to grind it, bake it, wash it... But the mine and the forest
provide everything we need. Its a blue gold mine.
And you sell the blue? said Legolas
To laundries all over Gondorthe Royal Laundry at
Minas Tirith cant get enough of itand my representatives
taking samples to Edoras as we speak. I didnt bother with
you Elveswell, you dont yellow your smalls,
Blushing delicately, Legolas turned to the Reeve. And
what is your part in all of this? he asked.