By Kielle (email@example.com)
Excuse: This story was written for the Rohirric Ficathon (), specifically for Karigan Rohanna (aka far_from_gondor on LJ).
Author's Note: Karigan wanted a story about these two as young men in Dol Amroth; I did some timeline crunching and...well, I'll put the explanation in an author's postnote, but this just worked so well I went with it. I do hope it suffices -- I have another idea, but she wanted something light and my other idea is not light, and possibly slashy, and I didn't know if she wanted slashy, so...yeah. I'm sorry it's late, Karigan -- obviously I got half-devoured by other plotbunnies while writing it and had a hard time figuring out where to stop...
"At the bottom they came with a strange suddenness on the grass of Rohan. It swelled like a green sea up to the very foot of the Emyn Muil..."
-- "The Riders Of Rohan," The Two Towers
They weren't supposed to swim in the harbor. Even when the water sparkled a lovely vivid deep green-blue in the afternoon sun, looks could be deceptive. A strong high tide and a wayward summer current often carried city sewage swirling beneath the surface.
And then there was the more obvious danger: a swimmer could easily go unnoticed in the ship lanes. Everyone knew tales of children crushed to death between barnacled hulls and mussell-encrusted docks. No one could ever actually name a child who had died in such a gruesome manner. But it most certainly happened years ago to a friend of a friend of a cousin's cousin...
Which meant, of course, that children went swimming in the harbor anyway.
Today the pilings rode high above a clean low tide, and at the apex of the docks there was no danger of wayward cargo vessels. The Prince's great swan-prowed frigate was long gone, out to sea, down the coast; no other ship would dare moor in the royal slip, which made it the perfect swimming pool.
A boy floated peacefully on his back in the cool water, arms outstretched and eyes closed. He'd been there for some time, with his ears sunk below the surface of the water so he could say later that he couldn't possibly have heard anyone calling for him. If they were. He hoped they weren't. He didn't like disobeying his parents; that was something his sister did far better and far more often. No, he merely planned to stay here, at peace, in the sea, alone, for as long as he possibly cou--
He spluttered and went under as water fountained across his face with a small but impressive "thoom." When he surfaced, coughing and flailing, he promptly went under again as a little slippery bundle of arms and legs latched onto him like a limpet. Half-drowned, he struggled and pried until he could get loose, lunging for air, coughing and thrashing and trying to clear saltwater from his eyes so he could see.
Not that he needed to. He only had one cousin that size.
"Imrahil! Are you trying to get us both drowned?!" he exclaimed indignantly. He splashed at the sleek dark head which bobbed out of sight to re-emerge, seal-like, just out of range. "You're not supposed to be swimming here!"
"Neither are you." The child paddled back over to the dock from which he'd just cannonballed into the water and grabbed a loose tether, swinging back and forth in the water. "Your Mama is looking for you, Theo. You should be there."
Reluctantly, the fifteen-year-old swam over as well, his frame all angles that cut through the water with barely a splash. His hair was bleached nearly white by the sun -- that Northern paleness the only sign that he was anything more than a sun-browned wharf rat -- and tied back in an intricately woven thong. "We're not going until tomorrow morning. I'm all packed. It can wait."
The child looked solemn, his wide clear gray eyes unhappy. "Theoden? I...I'm sorry about your grandfather."
"I didn't know him." And this was true. "I've never even been to Rohan. I'm Gondorian." But that last part wasn't quite true. Like it or not, his father was the heir to the throne of the Riddermark...and that throne now stood empty. "But there's no choice."
"I don't want you to go either." The younger boy, in contrast, was as dark as Theoden was light -- small for his eight years, his black hair utterly untouched by the sun despite freckles and a deep even bronzing of his fair skin. "But you're a Prince, and when a Prince has to do something, or go somewhere..."
"Then he has to do it, or he has to go. I know." Theoden sighed. He wasn't trying to be bratty...not like his sister. Ceolwyn had locked herself in her room and wouldn't see anyone but her closest friend, their cousin Ivriniel. The two had been in there all morning, being generally prickly and unpleasant and very, very seventeen. The last he'd heard when he'd slipped out to come down here, 'Wyn had been shouting something at their mother about "bidding farewell to my life." There'd been a suitor's name involved. It'd been a good time to escape.
Theoden made himself refocus on the conversation at hand. In the shadows of the pier, the water seemed colder. "I never thought of myself as a prince. Not like you. I mean, you see Prince Ad-- I mean, your father being royal all the time. My father, though...he wasn't. 'Wyn and I had to learn all that extra history and language, but it never seemed real. I never thought..."
He swallowed hard. It still seemed unreal. One moment he'd been spending the summer in the Princes' House in Dol Amroth with his family, having the time of his life at the seaside. Then the letter had arrived, borne by an exhausted rider in northern garb on a weary gray stallion. And nothing was ever going to be the same again.
Bidding my life farewell... It sounded silly when Ceolwyn shouted it with a stamp of her slippered foot and a toss of her flaxen mane, but wasn't that exactly what he was doing? Saying goodbye to the sea. He loved the great rolling expanse of it, the wind that rushed over the rippling waves, cool soft green as far as the eye could see. In fact, he'd been beside himself with excitement since his father granted permission for the one thing he'd begged every summer for as long as he could remember: to be allowed to accompany the Prince himself on a patrol of the southern coast.
A week at sea, on his own! Maybe even to battle corsairs! He'd been barely able to sleep, waiting for Prince Adrahil's flagship to return to port.
Now he might never even see the ocean again.
"It's a long way inland," he replied unhappily. "Not even anywhere near a river. Except where it's close to Mordor, so I won't even be allowed to go boating. I'm going to shrivel up and die. I just know it."
"You're starting to sound like your sister." Imrahil grinned. He let go of the rope to tread water, backpedalling into the sunlight -- and that's when a full coil of mooring rope dropped over his head and shoulders, shoving him under with a burbling yowl.
Unperturbed, Theoden peered up and waved. "Hey Finny. Are they sending the entire family out to get me?"
The girl shook her head, sitting down on the edge with her bare feet kicking. She was dressed in a boy's britches and a blouse whose tails tied around her waist like a belt; hardly appropriate for a princess, but well suited for the docks. She was watching for Imrahil to re-emerge alive, and when he did (spluttering and complaining) she grinned and turned her attention to her cousin.
"Ivriniel wanted me to help pack. I didn't want to. But yes, you'll have to go back in soon...at least for dinner. It's going to be very good, in honor of your last night here. The short notice has driven the kitchens quite mad."
The sea, Theoden realized with a small pang, wasn't the only thing he'd miss about spending summers in Dol Amroth. Finduilas was almost as old as he was, and this was the first year he'd noticed that she was a girl. Well, obviously he already knew she was a girl, but to really notice it...
Because it had occurred to him, this summer, that Princes married Princesses. And she was the only one his age.
At first he'd been disturbed by this epiphany. She was his cousin, the brat who stuffed his pillow with seaweed and filled his sock drawer with sand! Then again, she wasn't truly his cousin in any way that counted when it came to marriage; the only blood that lay between them was a distant shared ancestor in the Stewards' line. And she wasn't so much of a brat this year. In fact, when he tried to think about her as any other boy might, he had to admit that she was becoming pretty. Perhaps next year...
Imrahil chose this moment to attach himself to Theoden's back, wrapping arms around his the older boy's neck and pressing his dripping-wet head against drying sun-bleached hair. He wasn't heavy and this time Theoden had a good grip on the pier. "Maybe we can come visit you next summer. They have lots of horses in Rohan, right? I need to learn to ride better, so's I can be a knight like Papa--"
"He'll never let us go there," Finduilas said quickly, with an uncharacteristic shudder. "It's so close to...you know. There are orcs and, and things."
Imrahil snorted fiercely. "I'm not afraid of orcs. I'd protect you, Finny. And so would Theo." A heel dug into Theoden's ribs. "Wouldn't you?"
"I didn't say I was afraid," Finduilas retorted with an indignant glare before Theoden could reply. "It's not the orcs, anyway. It's just..." She shrugged easily, but her hands were wrapped bloodlessly tight around the warped wooden edge of the pier. "It just is. I can't imagine anyone living there, it's too horrible. Theo, you'll come back here for summers, yes?"
"Hmm?" Distractedly, Theoden was watching her dark hair stream and whip like a raven's wings in the afternoon breeze. He wanted to say that he understood what she'd been trying to say, that she was a creature of the seaside who simply did not belong inland where the shadows fell. He wanted to say that he understood because he was the same...except he wasn't. Half of his blood sprang from the plains of Calenardhon. He didn't want to go, but he had no choice, and perhaps he'd find something there after all.
But he still wasn't happy to leave all this behind.
"I...I'll ask," he said at last. "Maybe they'll be glad to get rid of me an' Wyn for a few months next year. But it's an awful long way away, and Father wouldn't be able to leave, and Mother won't leave him, and I don't know if she'd let us go alone for that long. On the road. It's a long way. Maybe when I'm older."
"And maybe then you'll be king," Imrahil interjected, and in a conversation between normal children the next sentence would be and you can do whatever you want. But these were children of royalty who knew that the truth was quite different, so they were all gloomily thoughtful at that.
At last it was Theoden who broke the silence. "Imrahil?"
"Stop choking me."
"Oh." The eight-year-old let go, sliding back into the water. "It's getting cold. You gotta go in soon."
"Dinner," Finduilas added helpfully. "And I brought towels."
Theoden turned to stare west at the golds and pinks of the lowering sunset. He couldn't see the horizon from here, not through a maze of pilings and masts and sails, but he knew it was there. Tomorrow morning they'd be on the road for Minas Tirith, and then to Rohan, and you couldn't see the western horizon from either place...
With a lunge and a splash he was out of the water, scaling the crude rope-and-board ladder to clamber onto the wooden jetty. Finduilas squeaked as cold seawater splattered all over her, rolling aside and flinging a towel defensively up at him. Managing to not topple off the dock, he caught it out of mid-air and threw it around his shoulders with a shiver. Night was coming.
Thoughtfully, he turned to stare up at the highest tower of the Prince's quarters. Imrahil was already out of the water too, shaking himself like a dog; Finduilas dumped the other towel over her little brother's head, then rose to her feet and slapped dust from her breeches. She glanced over at Theoden, wondering why he was so quiet...until he turned to grin at them both, waving his hand up the spire.
"Race you there!" he shouted, and was off. If they got there quick enough, he figured, they'd be able to watch the sun set...
Yelling like a Southron savage, Imrahil shot after him like a crossbow bolt. And with a most unladylike oath Finduilas chased after.
Author's Afterword: Theoden was raised in Gondor from birth (2948) until his fifteenth year, when his grandfather Fengel died (2963). Imrahil was born in 2955, making him eight in 2963. Finduilas is 13. I suppose in afterthought I could have had Theo go back for a summer when he was older, but this idea attacked and that was the end of it...