This is a belated birthday present for Altariel and an extremely belated birthday present for Verity all in one. I'd originally intended to do a story about mothers and daughters, but nothing was occurring to me and when I looked about the landscape of the Unabeuverse, I realized why. Altariel and I are really hard on mothers, canonical and otherwise. Finduilas, Nimrien, Liranaiel-we slay mothers all the time. So I decided to do the other parent/daughter relationship, with a character who is a faithful fall back, and I hope that it pleases.
Happy very belated birthday, Short Stuff! And welcome, Verity!
"Your Highness, you have a daughter," Master Palarran said, a smile lighting up his usually taciturn expression. "She and your lady are doing well. Would you like to see them now?"
Imrahil looked at his father and blood-brother, then nodded. The three men followed the physician into the room to find Nimrien, her face puffy and grey with exhaustion, holding a swaddled bundle with an expression of utter contentment.
"A daughter, I see," Imrahil said, bending to kiss her cheek. "Evening the odds, eh? You've often said that you feel a bit overwhelmed among all us men." Nimrien smiled.
"Yes, and I felt that it was well past time to do something about it. Would you like to hold her, Imri?"
Imrahil nodded, and slipped his arms around the bundle, lifting her with the easy expertise of a several-times father.
"Well hello, little Lothíriel!" he said softly, already enchanted by her small, reddened face. The little pug nose wrinkled and he felt his heart melt further.
"At least I've made no more work for you with this one, Andra," Nimrien said softly. Andrahar cocked an eyebrow and favored her with one of his rare, gentle smiles in return.
"Just work of a different sort, I think, my lady," he said, stepping over to get a closer look, though he did not venture to touch.
"Wisely said, Andra. I think you'll find, my son, that daughters are entirely different," Adrahil commented, leaning close to survey his latest grandchild with a pleased air.
Looking down at his little girl, a fierce surge of protectiveness surged through Imrahil then, stronger even than he'd felt with any of his sons. As usual, Father is right, he thought, and cuddled his daughter more closely.
Dada?" came the sad query, followed by a louder one just moments later. "DADA!"
Imrahil fought to wakefulness, battling the brandy, and pushing himself up on his elbow, peered over the edge of the bed. Lothíriel stood there, her plump little arms extended upwards imploringly.
"What is wrong, 'Thiri? Couldn't you sleep?" His daughter shook her head, her lower lip protruding in a most ominous manner.
"Bad dreams. I miss Mommy. Can I stay with you?"
Surprised, Imrahil folded the covers back and pulled her up into the bed. "Of course you may."
While he loved all his children equally, there was no question that before Nimrien's death he'd spent more time in the company of his sons, particularly the older two. Lothíriel had been closer to her mother than to him, curling up on Nimrien's lap once or twice a day to be read to. She obviously loved her father, showering him with oft-times sticky kisses, but she had preferred her mother's company. Now, as he tucked the covers over her and she snuggled up close to him, the stark realization broke over Imrahil.
I'm all that she has left. What if I'd not woken when she called, because I was too drunk? Perhaps it's time to back off the brandy.
"He says he doesn't like me!" Lothíriel said plaintively, sniffling. Her face was tear-stained. Imrahil had been informed by one of the under-chambermaids that his nine-year-old daughter was "-in quite a taking, Your Highness."
Now he stood over her as she lay upon her bed in her room, feeling a bit baffled.
"Who doesn't like you?"
"Ralf! He says I'm an icky girl!"
"Now there's a crisis. The stable-lad doesn't like you."
Lothíriel rolled over and gave him an affronted glare. "Well I like him! Why can't he like me back?"
Imrahil pondered for a moment, before the inspiration to draw upon the experiences of his own childhood came to him. "Hmmmm, let's see. Because he's eleven, for a start, and all girls are icky to an eleven-year-old boy."
"Really. Trust me on this one. I know, because I was once eleven years old myself, difficult as that is to imagine." Lothíriel actually giggled at the face he made then, the storm clouds clearing from her face. "So it's not just you, it's every girl. And besides, Ralf's a smart lad. He knows that I don't care for boys who like my girl too much." Imrahil's brows drew down ominously and his voice dropped as well. "He undoubtedly doesn't want to take up residence in the dungeon…"
"Father!" Lothíriel exclaimed in horrified delight, her earlier mood entirely dissipated.
Relieved, Imrahil said, "I'll tell you what. I always find that a little shopping makes me feel better when I've had a bad day. Why don't we go see about getting you a new dress?"
Lothíriel leapt up, bouncing once upon her mattress before throwing her arms about her father's neck.
"I love you so much!"
He'd been dreading The Talk. Not that he didn't possess sufficient experience (possibly too much!) to be able to impart the critical information to Lothíriel. It was just the idea of doing so that traumatized him.
Nonetheless, he felt anything but relieved when he found his thirteen-year-old daughter and his fifteen-year-old son Amrothos in the library with their heads bent over The Garden of Love, the classic Haradric manual of love-making. Dol Amroth's copy was an old and priceless one, the illustrations done by a master of the craft, which meant they were artistically explicit.
"'Rothos!" he barked and the two of them both started. "What in the Valars' name do you think you are doing?"
Lothíriel was blushing furiously, but Amrothos didn't turn a hair. "'Thiri had questions about what men and women do together," he said calmly. "You let us boys all look at the book when we were her age. I figured I'd show it to her."
"That is hardly appropriate!"
"Why? Doesn't she need to know? Women are the ones who actually have the babies. It seems to me that they need to know more about it than anyone."
Taken aback, Imrahil pondered that for a moment. Daughters are different…but were they, as regarded this? He'd sent his boys to this book when they had questions. Was his father's inclination to protect Lothíriel from everything being overactive here? Amrothos might very well have the right of it.
His scholar son looked up at his father with Nimrien's eyes, and Imrahil felt the ire fade.
"What's done is done, I suppose," he said, repressing a sigh. He turned his attention to his daughter. "'Thiri, if you have any questions about what you've learned today, do feel free to ask me."
"Yes, Father," she said, all formal of a sudden, her head bowed and ears pink.
But after that day, something changed between them. Lothíriel no longer threw herself heedlessly into his lap, preferring to sit decorously beside him. Imrahil knew why-she had realized that he was not just her father, he was a man, capable of doing the things depicted in the book. And he supposed that it had to happen sooner or later, but it saddened him nonetheless.
If Thalion's hand slips up just one more inch up 'Thiri's rib cage, I'll take Swanwing to him! His father has three sons and little property-I'd be doing the man a favor!
From Lothíriel's point of view, her coming out in Minas Tirith was a smashing success. After her uncle Denethor had unbent and actually shared the first dance with her, a tradition that had been in abeyance for decades, she'd been swarmed with dance partners. Her only problem was getting the chance to catch her breath and take a drink between dances.
From Imrahil's point of view, it was too much of a success. He knew all too well what randy young men were capable of, having been a particularly randy young man himself, and he'd been driven half mad trying to keep an eye on her, to make sure no one was taking untoward liberties. Silly perhaps, with three brothers and two male cousins on hand to watch over her as well. But he found that he couldn't help himself, thereby creating much entertainment for Andrahar. Though Andrahar's hawk eyes were watching too. More than one potential swain had looked over and seen the Commander's black gaze intent upon him and had modified behavior accordingly.
"You need to decide which one of them you are willing to have me hang for," came Andrahar's amused murmur as he watched his fulminating liege.
"I have to settle for just one?" Imrahil protested. "You're slipping, Andra." Andrahar actually laughed out loud.
"What's that, Father?" Lothíriel said. She had the tea-tray Imrahil had requested of the maid in her hands. Her father looked up and smiled. She'd made a habit of late of bringing him his afternoon tea so that they could sit and chat together for a while.
"It is a request for your hand in marriage." Imrahil folded the letter and set it aside.
"Really? Who is it from?"
"Would you believe the khan of Umbar? For his oldest son."
Lothíriel's nose wrinkled as she set the tray down. "Really? Are you actually considering it?"
"No. Not at all."
Relief warred with duty on Lothíriel's face. "But if it would keep the peace…"
"No. It wouldn't keep the peace or delay the inevitable." Imrahil's countenance darkened for a moment as he contemplated the likelihood of a cataclysm in the near future. Then he made an visible effort and smiled. "And besides, it was never my intention to marry you off for policy. You'll have the same freedom to seek someone you love to marry as your brothers did."
"Even a fisherman?" His daughter's eyes were twinkling now.
"If said fisherman can survive the gauntlet that myself, Andrahar and all your brothers run him through, then yes."
"If that's the requirement, then it looks like I'm doomed to live and die a spinster!" Lothíriel laughed, as she sat and began pouring the tea.
Imrahil regarded his beautiful young daughter with pride. "I find that possibility highly unlikely."
A little silence followed, as they sipped and nibbled for a time. Then Lothiriel asked, "How will I know if he's the right one, Father?"
"For my part, I had a tiny little voice in my head telling me to marry your mother."
"But what if I don't have that tiny voice?"
"Then ask yourself-does this man give me the possibility of growth as a person?" Imrahil's hands spread apart. "Or is he going to compress me, make me less than I am now?" The hands cupped close together. "You want the man who will make you grow."
Lothíriel contemplated this for a moment, then smiled. "You always have good answers for me, Father. How do you do that?"
"The fruit of a totally misspent youth," came Imrahil's swift response. "I made all the mistakes so you won't have to."
To Lothíriel's delight, the rakehell grin manifested. She'd seen it very seldom on her father's face of late.
He'd always been the center of her world. Her memories of her mother were very dim, more sensation than anything else. The softness of the shawl Lothiriel had snuggled under, the sound of a lovely voice reading stories, the scent of her mother's perfume.
After that, it was just her father. Guiding, applying gentle correction when necessary, a fount of love she could always rely upon. She'd never felt a lack. She'd had Tirathiel and the maids to answer any purely female questions she had had. For the rest, all of it, her father had always sufficed.
They'd had word, that he and Elphir both had survived the Black Gate unscathed. But until she stepped into the library in Minas Tirith and actually saw him at his desk, the word hadn't seemed real.
There's a little more silver in his hair. He looks tired. Lothíriel ran forward.
He'd had word that the children he'd left behind had all survived the Corsairs. But until he suddenly found himself with a lapful of Lothíriel, as she'd not done since she was a small girl, until he felt her arms twine about his neck and her kisses rain upon his face, it hadn't seemed real.
"You're all right! You're all right! You're all right!" she was chanting over and over again.
The tight band around Imrahil's heart that he hadn't even realized was there loosened, and he felt tears start in his eyes as he kissed his daughter back.
I am now.
She'd met the woman who had slain the Witch-King; slim and golden and glorious, the same woman who held her cousin Faramir's heart. And she'd met the woman who had saved Faramir on the Pelennor; tall and stalwart and snow-headed. It was hard not to feel a bit…inconsequential in comparison, despite her beauty and riches and position. For Lothíriel knew that she would never be a shield-maiden, the sort of woman who birthed legends. She had always been a very domestic sort of girl.
"Am I disappointed that you're not a shield-maiden?" her father exclaimed in a very gratifying show of disbelief. She had broached the subject over one of their afternoon teas. "Why ever would you think that?"
"It's just that…everyone has done so much to fight the Enemy. Éowyn slew the Witch-king. Hethlin saved Cousin Faramir. You all fought at Minas Tirith and the Black Gate and down in the Bay of Belfalas. I feel that I haven't done my part."
Imrahil snorted. "'Thiri dear, you're the reason I have a city to come back to! I've read the reports. You kept that whole castle going, while 'Chiron was out fighting and 'Rothos was rigging that boom to close the harbor off. You worked with the quartermasters to make sure everyone was fed and had clean water. You worked with the healers to make sure that our wounded were cared for. You went about the city constantly, encouraging our folk. I am prouder than I can say about how you conducted yourself, and I know that your mother would be too! Not everyone can be a fighter."
"Any role fulfilled to the best of one's ability is an honorable role," said Andrahar, who had slipped in the door just in time to hear the last of this. "You will not have legends as your legacy, Lothíriel, but lives. That is the better thing, I think."
Andrahar had always been absolutely honest, so his words were comforting. "Perhaps you're right, Uncle Andra. Perhaps I'm just being silly."
"I wouldn't say silly, exactly," her father said, an arrested expression on his face as if something had just occurred to him. "More like misdirected. Am I the person you should be having this discussion with?"
Éomer of Rohan was a friend, a comrade in arms, a fellow commander, foremost in the charge and an all around firebrand. So it was amusing to see him reduced to an apprehensive young man much like any other in this situation.
"So you want to marry my daughter." Imrahil's voice was cool. "Might I ask why?"
He expected a catalog of his daughter's beauties. What he got was surprising.
"My lord prince…" Éomer cleared his throat. "My land is much torn by war. I need a bride who can stand by my side and help me rebuild. Your daughter is kind, wise and courageous. She has already given me much good counsel. I am certain that my people will come to adore her as I already do. She is truly her father's daughter, and you are the man I love and respect above all others save Aragorn. Please tell me that you will accept my suit and allow me to join my house with yours."
She has inspired Éomer to wax poetic, and of a certainty he sees her clear. But this particular situation was only going to come once, and Imrahil intended to make the most of it. So he lifted a brow and gave the young King of Rohan a long, assessing stare. Éomer did not squirm exactly, but he did shift slightly from foot to foot under the sea-grey gaze.
It was actually little over a minute, but it must have seemed an eternity to Éomer before Imrahil relented, stepped forward and embraced him. "It would seem, my son, that we have a wedding to plan."
And here it was where the real difference between daughters and sons became clear, for he'd not felt this sense of grief and loss when Elphir had married. But then Elphir had brought his bride home, and Lothíriel was going the whole length of Gondor and further away.
He was being unreasonable and he knew it. Lothíriel was absolutely glowing with happiness, as was Éomer, and they were obviously very much in love with each other. So he put a good face on it as he stood beside her and gave her to another man, and managed a more than passable cheer at the wedding feast afterwards. He'd always been a good actor and he fancied he'd dissembled well enough for Lothíriel, Éomer and maybe even Aragorn-though he suspected Arwen knew the tenor of his thoughts. It was very difficult to hide anything from Arwen.
But it was not the Queen of Gondor who came to him as he took a moment of solitude upon the porch of Meduseld, the night breeze bathing his face, but the King of Rohan. Éomer stood in companionable silence at Imrahil's shoulder for a while before he spoke.
"We have a saying among our people, Father. What she gives to her husband is but a part, a father holds his daughter's heart." At Imrahil's confounded look he continued. "I know how you are feeling right now. I felt the very much the same way when Éowyn left Rohan. It is hard. But we will visit you, even though I have little love for that sea of yours," here Imrahil surprised himself with a chuckle, "and I would hope that you know that you are always welcome here and will visit us often."
"As often as I can, of a certainty. Thank you, Éomer."
"Small credit to me in this. 'Thiri said that I should come and speak with you, that you would be sad."
"And here I thought I could hide something from my daughter."
Éomer snorted. "Good luck with that! I never can."
His mood lightening a bit, Imrahil smiled and said, "So-are we establishing who is ruling the roost in Rohan already?"
Rohan's king grinned wryly in response. "I can tell you that it's not this rooster!"
That drew another chuckle from Imrahil before he sobered. "You will look after her?"
"With my life, my lord," Éomer swore solemnly. "For she is dearer to me than my life."
Suddenly feeling much better, Imrahil turned and embraced his son-in-law. "Come, we'd best go back inside. There are the final toasts, then you will be needing to give your bride your undivided attention."
It was surprising, amusing and oddly gratifying on some level to discover that Éomer of Rohan, peerless warrior and king, hero of the Ring War, could still blush.
She'd been born while he was away at war and in that time had passed through the wrinkly, red early stages of babyhood to the most attractive phase of gurgling plumpness. In fact, she was crawling with a vengeance and looked to be walking soon.
Little Nimrien smiled up in response to the smile above her and cheerfully patted her grandfather's face. She chortled and Imrahil felt his heart melt all over again as he held his first granddaughter.
"If you've not figured it out already, Elphir," he heard himself say, "I should warn you. Daughters are entirely different."