Part 68 of the Elfwine Chronicles. The Elfwine Chronicles are a series of one-shots built around the family group of Eomer, Lothiriel and Elfwine. The total number will depend on how many ideas I get for new vignettes.
A/N: Lady Scribe of Avandell provided the kernel of a story idea that this is based on, from our discussion about what sort of man Morwen would end up with. The idea was given added impetus from Tracey, who reviewed what I had written and raised questions to help me flesh out the details. Thanks to both of you!
(May, 36 IV)
"I do not think the dainty little lady from Rohan was much taken with your charms, Caranhir!" a low voice commented, with obvious amusement.
Caranhir's eyes flicked to his friend, Phinion, and he shook his head, "You are mistaken! She is slow to warm up to me, it is true, but soon enough I will make her my wife!"
"Wife! Have you gone mad? She could barely tolerate dancing with you. Why on earth would she marry you?" Phinion exclaimed.
Turning his gaze back to the lovely blond Rohirric woman, he answered steadily, "Because I will persuade her I am worthy of her attention. I will convince her she would prefer no other."
His friend laughed, shaking his head in disbelief. "Well, I cannot fault your self-confidence! This ought to prove entertaining, at the very least. I do not think the daughter of Rohan's king will be easily persuaded."
"What? She is King Eomer's daughter?"
Phinion nodded, with a smirk. "Did you not know? I just overheard some women talking about it. They are torn between liking her immensely and hating her for her beauty! More than half the men in this room would give their right arm just to kiss her once, and you aspire to marriage? Indeed, you have been out in the sun too long today. She will never consider you! From what I hear, she is prim and proper, and not at all taken with a rough and ready sort like you, nobleman's son or not. You had best set your sights elsewhere."
Phinion swallowed the last of his wine and handed the goblet to his companion, adding, "And now, if you will excuse me, I see several ladies very much in need of a dance partner. I must go and rescue them!"
At about the same time this conversation was taking place, across the room Morwen had reached the side of her cousin, Luthiel. Taking the offered glass of wine, she thirstily drank, then said with annoyance, "Tell me, who on earth is that awful man?" She gestured toward Caranhir, on the other side of the hall.
Following the direction of Morwen's hand and eyes, she asked, "Do you mean the tall, well-built man, standing by the pillar near the wine table? With the dark blue tunic and auburn hair?"
Morwen nodded, and Luthiel grinned. "That is Lord Caranhir. Why? Are you attracted to him?"
Morwen gave one of her rare unladylike snorts. "Attracted! To that hideous man? Certainly not! And how on earth could he possibly be a nobleman? His manners are atrocious! I was never so pleased to have a dance end in my entire life!" She took another swallow of wine to cool her temper.
Luthiel laughed, "Well, manners or not, he is a nobleman, though the past few years he has been serving as a Ranger in Ithilien. That perhaps accounts for his being less polished than one might expect."
"One might expect him to behave even remotely like a gentleman rather than some bumbling, uneducated..." Morwen trailed off, unable to think of a word to adequately describe her low opinion of him. Then she added, "He trod on my feet at least three times! And he held me far too familiarly for our having just met!"
Luthiel hid a smile at the haughty words. Her cousin had always been on the prissy side, though she was likable enough that usually no one paid it much mind, but now and then she managed to get quite worked up about something not in keeping with her prim view of things.
Though Morwen huffed and complained a while longer, Luthiel turned a deaf ear. She knew Morwen too well to believe this would last very long.
Once Morwen had caught her breath, she was ready to accept the next dance partner and one readily presented himself the moment she looked around with interest. However, with some chagrin, she noted that whenever she caught a glimpse of Lord Caranhir, he always seemed to be watching her with amusement. There was something proprietary in his gaze that suggested she belonged to him and he was 'tolerating' her dancing with other men.
The insufferable conceit of the man! He was sorely mistaken if he hoped to win her favor; indeed, she would not even be willing to accept another dance with him. If he tried to ask, she would turn him down, even if she had to be rude to do it!
It was almost a relief when the evening ended, and she no longer had to worry about his approaching her. As the guests began to file out, she was sharing another goblet of wine with Luthiel when, inexplicably, her cousin bid her goodnight and hurried away. She watched Luthiel's retreat with furrowed brow until a low, masculine voice spoke behind her, "My lady Morwen. May I escort you home?"
She stiffened. It was him! How dare he! And she intended to have harsh words with her cousin on the morrow for abandoning her!
Turning toward him, her face and body in their most rigidly royal frame, she eyed him coldly. "No, thank you. I will be fine."
He grinned, and suggested, "A walk in the moonlight then?" He reached for her hand and kissed her knuckles before she had the presence of mind to pull it away from him.
"I do not think so. I am tired."
Chuckling with amusement, he caught her hand again and wrapped it around his arm, firmly holding it in place against her efforts to withdraw it. "Then I will escort you home through the moonlight, even though you do not require an escort, but we will take the shortest route so as not to tire you further. However, if you do feel yourself becoming faint, do not be alarmed. I would be happy to carry you the remaining distance."
Her face flaming, Morwen was appalled to discover that her capacity for speech seemed to have entirely fled her. Reluctantly, she silently walked beside him, refusing to look at him and pretending he didn't exist. Her scorn, however, was lost on him. He strolled along with a grin on his face as if she were a willing participant, commenting occasionally on the night and the dance just ended.
Rather to her surprise, he brought her to the door of the Steward's house. How had he known where she was staying? He offered no explanation, and she was unwilling to pursue the conversation necessary to ask him. With a tender smile, that rather startled her, he turned and kissed her hand once more. "Until we meet again, my lady! Sleep well," he murmured in a tone so seductive her heart skipped a beat. And then he was gone.
Her face twisted in a frown of confusion, she went inside. If she was very lucky, they would never meet again. This man was far too forward in his behavior with her, and she certainly was not attracted to him regardless of what his imagined feelings were for her. No doubt he was just another young man anxious to ally himself with royalty. Through her, he could gain access to the thrones of both Rohan and Gondor, and she didn't intend to help him do so. This soldier would have to seek his fortune elsewhere.
Wearily she trudged off to bed, thankful that the night was over.
If Morwen thought that was the last she would see of Caranhir, she had sorely misjudged the man. When she left the house to go shopping the next day, she found him leaning against a wall, evidently waiting for her. He fell in beside her, despite her not acknowledging his presence, and held a one-sided conversation that was largely a treatise on his view of how lovely the day was for an outing with a beautiful woman.
In exasperation, she skidded to a stop and turned to face him. "Do you have nothing better to do than annoy me?"
He just laughed as though she were jesting with him, and assured her there was nowhere else he needed or wanted to be just then. Pivoting on her heel, she hurried away, but he continued to dog her footsteps. Where were her overprotective brothers when she needed them!
At the thought of him being run through by Elfwine, she could not restrain a smile. She wondered if even that would get the message to penetrate his thick skull and make him realize she was not interested. Instead, he grinned at her and commented, "Ah, you are feeling better. I am pleased!"
Leave it to 'Lord Arrogance' to think her smile was in some way due to him. "I would feel even better if I were alone," she told him pointedly.
But it was lost on him, for he only responded, "A day such as this is not meant to be spent alone, my lady! It is meant for lovers!"
"If I see any, I will mention it to them," she huffed, looking away and then ducking into a dress shop.
She had thought that might dissuade him. Few men that she knew cared to spend time in such places, but he trailed in behind her and insisted on remarking on each dress she looked at, and giving his opinion of how it would look on her. After several minutes of this, even she could not stand to be there any longer and she hurried back outside.
Since it was clear he intended to follow her, no matter what, she headed home. It would be better to stay indoors and avoid him altogether than to have him stalking her like some hunter after prey. To her surprise, however, before they reached the gate to the sixth level, he stopped her and excused himself, apologetically indicating there was somewhere he needed to be. Did he truly think she was anything other than delighted to have him gone from her?
She watched him walk away and was tempted to return to her shopping, but no longer felt the inclination she had earlier. With a sigh, she headed inside. In the foyer, she found her cousin Luthiel, who exclaimed, "There you are! Come, change clothes! There is going to be a competition. Both Eldarion and Father are going to participate in it."
"What sort of competition?" Morwen asked as they made their way to her room.
"Eldarion and several of the Citadel guards will compete against the visiting Rangers of Ithilien in games of skill," Luthiel explained.
Morwen barely restrained a snort of annoyance. She was not terribly fond of such 'games', as Luthiel called them. Soldiers did not interest her, being far too rough and unmannered for her taste. Not to mention that Lord Caranhir was a Ranger. It was likely he would be there, if not competing. She didn't want him thinking she had come to see him, but with Eldarion and Faramir taking part, she felt an obligation to attend.
"Why is Uncle Faramir competing?" she asked curiously. He was not a guard, and his Ranger days were long over.
"The Rangers invited him to join them as an honorary member, since he is the most renowned Ranger Ithilien has ever known. Eldarion is not a guard or Ranger either, but since it was his idea, he also gets to join in."
"What about King Elessar? Will he compete?"
Luthiel laughed heartily. "Of course not!" When Morwen eyed her questioningly, she explained, "He is so good that none will challenge him. When he wants to spar, he has to do it with Eldarion or Father. No one else will attempt it."
It seemed a rather silly way to spend the afternoon, but for appearance sake, Morwen capitulated and changed into a dress more suitable to the occasion. It was clear that Luthiel was eager to get going, and hurried her along in her preparations as much as possible, but Morwen firmly believed in not being seen unless every hair was in place, so she took sufficient time to make it so.
At last, they made their way down through the city levels to the gaming area outside the gates. Word apparently had spread through town, and a crowd was already turning out for the match. Vendors had hastily set up stalls from the backs of wagons, and had food and drink for sale in short order. As it was nearly time for the midday meal, they browsed amid the offerings until they found something that appealed to them and made their purchases.
Luthiel led the way to some seats that had been set up for the audience, and there were several wagons placed together, with chairs on them for the royal family and their guests. A servant helped them up some steps into the wagon and they settled in the front row.
In spite of her distaste for such things, Morwen could not help being affected by the festive atmosphere. At least it was better than sitting indoors all day to avoid Caranhir. Luthiel was explaining the match to her, and telling her about the various members of the Citadel guard she knew. The Rangers were reputed to be very good with longbows, but the guards likely had the advantage with swords. Eldarion was quite good with both, so he might tip the scales in favor of the guards.
Servants were beginning to erect a canopy over their seats, for which Morwen was grateful. The sun was starting to get quite warm as the day progressed and she did not wish to burn. While Luthiel was in conversation with a courtier sitting behind them, she let her eyes wander the field, coming to rest on the area where men were warming up.
She readily spotted Eldarion; he could make a spectacle of himself anywhere. It took a few moments to locate Uncle Faramir. He had his bow out and was taking practice shots at a target while several men observed. From where she was sitting, he seemed to be doing quite well, but since she wasn't entirely clear on the object, she couldn't be certain.
A glimpse of vibrant reddish-brown hair caught her attention, and she realized the man presently speaking with Faramir was Caranhir. Almost as if he knew she was looking, he turned in her direction and flashed a grin at her. Hastily, she turned her head and pretended not to notice. Did he have to spoil everything?
Moments later, the tournament began. The sword fighting was the first event, and pairs of men enthusiastically did battle until one or the other was declared victor. Eldarion easily progressed through three opponents to face the other semi-finalist, who he seemed to handily defeat. While Morwen was pleased for him, she could not quite shake a feeling of boredom. Why did men have to behave in such a crude manner anyway? The War was long ended, and even though there was still occasionally reason to defend their countries, these games seemed rather pointless to her. Leave the fighting for when it was needed.
Once the sword matches were done, with the victor receiving a kiss from each of the ladies in the royal box, as pledged by Queen Arwen, they moved on to the longbow event. Morwen found this somewhat more interesting as it didn't seem nearly so barbaric as swordfighting. At least it could be used for something worthwhile, like securing food.
Luthiel had been right about the prowess of the Rangers, and the Citadel guards were fairly quickly eliminated. Only Eldarion and one other man stayed in the running. Faramir did well for several rounds, finally coming up short as the targets were moved farther away, but even so he was given a rousing cheer of approval by the Rangers, and the guards and audience joined in. Faramir colored in embarrassment, but graciously acknowledged their accolade as he stepped aside for the next round of archers.
With some indifference, Morwen noticed that Caranhir was still in the competition. Apparently he was quite good. She hoped Eldarion would defeat him soundly – that ought to dent his conceit a bit. The targets kept being moved back as fewer and fewer made the mark. To Morwen they seemed impossibly distant from the archers. Even with her limited appreciation for this sport, she could not quite remain unimpressed with the skill it must require to hit something so far away.
And then it was over. To her very great annoyance, Eldarion had come up short in the semi-final round, and her last hope for Caranhir's downfall was dashed when his opponent finally missed, giving him the victory. That ought to make him even more insufferable than he usually was!
He began making his way in her direction, and she rolled her eyes that he seemed intent on coming to try to impress her with his win. Suddenly it occurred to her that the offer of a kiss to the victor had been meant for both victors. She was actually going to have to kiss this man's cheek. As revolting a thought as that was, she could think of no way to politely escape, though she did indulge in a few unpleasant thoughts about the Queen for putting her in this unenviable position.
While he was receiving kisses farther down the line, she forced her features into a look of cold detachment. She might be required to do this, but she had no intention of letting him think she was enjoying it.
And then he was before her, his smugness making her want to slap him. Averting her eyes to look over his shoulder, rather than directly at him, she bent to place the most chaste kiss imaginable on his cheek, but at the very last second before her lips touched him, he turned his head and she found herself kissing the corner of his mouth. She drew back in horror as those nearby chuckled with amusement. So low she wasn't sure anyone heard but her, he murmured, "That was definitely the one worth winning for!" And then he stepped to the next lady as though nothing unusual had happened.
Morwen's face was red, from equal parts embarrassment and anger. Her duty fulfilled, she hastily exited the wagon and stormed back up toward the city. She didn't stop her charge until she reached her room, winded and red in the face from the exertion, but at last in solitude.
How dare he! Treating her like...like...a barmaid! Did he think she freely handed out kisses to just anyone? In her twenty-two years, she had only kissed two men, and both of those had been polite, chaste and proper. And she had at least liked them! How dare he steal a kiss when she had made it clear that she wanted nothing to do with him!
She fell back onto her bed with a groan. Would he never leave her alone? Just because he was good-looking and got along with virtually everyone didn't mean she was attracted to him. Did he think she would enjoy kissing his chapped lips? It was obvious he had been out in the sun too much and it had taken a toll. He really should use a balm of some kind to prevent damage... And why was she even worrying about that? It was his problem. She didn't care if the sun burned his lips right off his face!
Covering her face with a pillow, she tried to turn her thoughts to anything other than that irksome man. By suppertime, she had recovered her composure, and even managed to ignore her family members' attempts at teasing her about her memorable afternoon. The only bright spot of the evening came when Faramir mentioned that the Rangers would be leaving in the morning to return to their duties. At last she would be rid of that oaf, once and for all.
Phinion and Caranhir stood outside the pay tent, wages in hand and ready for their leave. After the Ring War, peace had been established with Harad, but there remained pockets of dissidents in that land even some thirty-five years later. The Ithilien Rangers essentially served as border guards, being on the lookout for any signs of trouble and safeguarding the settlements that stretched sporadically from Emyn Arnen to Dol Amroth.
Being a member of the Rangers was a long-term commitment, and men signed on knowing they would be away from home for considerable periods of time. Most did not marry until they were ready to leave the Rangers, since it was unfair to a wife to have her husband gone most of the year. They got occasional breaks whenever they were patrolling near the cities of Dol Amroth or Minas Tirith. A few men were allowed to attend dances or feasts that might be taking place, and have some time to relax before rejoining their companions. Because of the schedule they kept, however, each year they were given two months off to visit their families, rest and do whatever they chose with their time. It was believed to help refresh them and keep them sharp the remainder of the year.
Phinion and Caranhir had joined the Rangers about the same time, and consequently their two month leave occurred simultaneously. At twenty-four, Phinion was two years younger than his friend, and hailed from Emyn Arnen. His parents had helped settle that town after the War, and he had grown up roaming the Ithilien forests, growing to love them passionately. He had not met Caranhir until they both joined the Rangers, but they had hit it off immediately and had soon become the best of friends.
Caranhir was the third son of a nobleman from Linhir, in southern Lebennin. Too far removed from being his father's primary heir, he had sought an occupation. Somewhat to his family's chagrin, his choice had been to join the Rangers. He had always enjoyed the outdoors, spending hours wandering the forests around the town. Despite all efforts to train him to follow more gentlemanly pursuits, he persisted in his enthusiasm for the military, and at length his father had given up arguing with him about it.
It was somewhat ironic that his father had helped defend the town's ford over the river from the corsairs and the Haradrim during the Ring War, but now objected to his own son seeking such an occupation. Caranhir suspected his father's opposition to his profession would have been stronger had he not fought himself, but he had done so out of extreme need rather than any enthusiasm for such things. He did not entirely understand his son's preoccupation with woodsmanship and fighting.
Because of their opposing views on the matter, and his presence was sometimes a bit embarrassing for his family who wished to appear more genteel, he kept his visits home brief. He had used previous leaves from the Rangers for travel, or gone home with friends to meet their families. He knew someday he would seek a wife and family of his own, and thought perhaps he would likely settle in Linhir without giving the matter much consideration, but until that day arrived, he intended to enjoy his freedom.
Circumstances being what they were with his family, Caranhir had already determined how this leave would be spent. There was a lovely lady in Rohan he needed to persuade to marry him. When he confided his intentions to Phinion, his friend shook his head in disbelief. "You do not give up, do you? I tell you, the girl will never agree to marry you. There is nothing about you that appeals to her. She wants one of those prissy, puffed up men of the court, who is round and soft by the time he is thirty, from too much food and not enough exercise. She would never tolerate a wild man like you who finds his greatest enjoyment crashing around in the bushes!"
Caranhir just gave him a cocky grin in response. "Say what you want, but I will marry her."
"You are blinded by her beauty! Use some sense! Why on earth would you want a prim and proper woman like that? She will nag you into an early grave! She will try to change everything about you until you cannot recognize yourself! Give it up!"
Caranhir shook his head. "You see only the surface, my friend, the facade. There is more to her than that, though she does not yet realize it. Had I not already believed it, I would have known it when you told me she was King Eomer's daughter. He is a strong and plain-spoken man. I cannot believe any of his children could be so vacuous as you deem her to be. She will not change me so much as I will soften her. I will show her her true beauty, her heart. She is capable of great and good things, but she needs someone like me to bring that out in her. You mark my words – a few years after we marry, you will have a very different opinion of her."
So Phinion gave up. If Caranhir was determined to make this bed for himself, he would have to lie in it when he did. His friend tried to persuade him to come to Rohan with him, in pursuit of the lady, but Phinion declined. He would rather visit his family than go on this wild goose chase. If Caranhir wanted to waste his free time in this manner, that was fine, but Phinion did not intend to do likewise, so the next morning they said their farewells, and parted company at Emyn Arnen.
FYI: Caranhir means 'red lord'; Phinion means 'skilled son'; This takes place in 36 IV: Eomer is 65, Lothiriel 57, Elfwine 35 (kids: Arawine 13, #2 8, #3 ?), Theodwyn 28, Theomund 26, Morwen 22, Theodred 13.
End note: It is not essential that you read the Elfwine Chronicles in the order they were written, but there is an advantage to doing so. The more of them that I wrote, the more likely I was to make reference to one of the previous ones and something that happened there. If you want to read them in order, go to the top of this page and click on my name (Deandra). That will take you to my profile page. Scroll down and you will find all the stories I have written. The Elfwine Chronicles are in order from bottom to top since ffn shows them in the order they were posted. A few were posted out of number order (#15 came after #17, I think), but you can read them in posting order or number order since those few won't be affected in the story content.