This story is a little extra material I could not fit into 'Of falcons and mûmakil'. However it is not at all necessary to have read that story to understand this one. Many thanks to lady scribe of avandell, who triggered this with an email exchange about her story 'The Thing' and to Lady Bluejay for lending me her dead sea creature once more, tatty though it is by now.
Dol Amroth, August of Third Age 3020
It was a purple so dark it was almost black. Éomer stared down at it and could have sworn he saw a trace of movement, a tiny wriggle, but that was impossible. He picked up his spoon and gave the thing a cautious poke. Unexpectedly, nothing untoward happened. It stayed dead and did not wrap one of those tentacles around his spoon or try to attach a sucker to his hand.
"A delicacy from the south of Dol Amroth," Amrothos's smooth voice cut in while Éomer was still eyeing his plate suspiciously.
"What is it exactly?" he asked, his lack of enthusiasm more than evident.
Lothiriel's youngest brother quickly smothered a smile. "It's called an octopus, a curious creature that lives in the sea. When threatened it will hide itself in a cloud of ink."
A dead sea creature. That explained a lot. He'd already had one in his bath.
"Why is it this unusual colour?" he asked, giving it another cautious poke. At the same time he tried not to attract the attention of the other guests at the table of honour, knowing full well what they thought of the barbarians from the North.
Amrothos nodded at his plate. "The octopus is cooked in its own ink, giving it its unique flavour."
Éomer felt not the least desire to experience this culinary delight and was just about to push his plate away and ask for the next course when Amrothos added something else.
"It's also my father's favourite dish," the youngest Prince of Dol Amroth said, a note of warning in his voice.
That made Éomer pause. He cast a quick look at the head of the table, where Prince Imrahil sat, making polite conversation to one of his other guests, a Gondorian lord. Next to him sat his daughter and as if sensing his gaze on her the Princess of Dol Amroth lifted her eyes and gave him a tiny smile. It was no more than a quick lifting of the corners of her mouth, a brief flash of her green eyes, yet it sufficed to bring back the memory of the kisses they had exchanged earlier on in the afternoon. For a moment Éomer again felt those soft lips under his own, the feeling of her supple body pressing against him, and could almost smell the delicious scent of her hair.
He came back to himself with a start, finding Amrothos watching him curiously. Éomer cleared his throat, hoping desperately that the other man could not read minds.
"Your father's favourite?" he asked cautiously.
"Yes indeed." The young prince lowered his voice. "He might be offended if you refuse to even taste it. Why don't you give it a try?"
Éomer considered the black lump slowly congealing on his plate. Surely it could not taste worse than the journeybread the Rohirrim had subsisted on during their ride to deliver Minas Tirith. He again cast a look at Lothiriel. The princess was talking to one of the other guests, smiling politely at something the man was saying to her, yet the smile never reached her eyes, not the way it did with him. Her long black hair fell forward over one bare shoulder and he was suddenly filled with the desire to bury his hands in it. Éomer knew she had plenty of admirers, but he intended to talk to Imrahil the next morning and had hopes her father might look favourably on his suit.
He picked up his spoon and took a deep breath. He had faced the fearsome Uruk-hai in battle, on the Pelennor had looked death in the face and laughed, had stood with the Armies of the West in their last defence at the Black Gate. He could do this.
Éomer dipped his spoon in the spongy mass and closed his eyes. The dead sea creature tasted like nothing he had ever eaten before. In fact it had hardly any taste at all, that being in itself a rather unsettling sensation. He cautiously chewed the rubbery bits and when he swallowed, he had the distinct impression that they were wriggling about on their way down to his stomach. Twice more he filled his spoon, then he felt he had done as much as could be humanly expected of him.
There was the whisper of silk behind him as the Princess of Dol Amroth paused on her way to retire to her quarters. When Éomer jumped up and gave her a bow, she extended one slim hand for a kiss.
"Please don't let me disturb your meal, King Éomer," Lothiriel said, every inch the gracious hostess yet with unmistakable warmth in her voice, but then gave a sudden frown when her eyes fell on his plate.
"Octopus?" she sounded surprised, "Do you like that?"
"It was delicious, my Lady Princess." In the subdued light of the lamps her skin had a golden sheen and her hand rested on his own as lightly as a bird.
Lothiriel's eyebrows rose. "If you say so, I've never had the nerve to taste it. In fact my father always surreptitiously feeds his portion to the dogs, and he claims even they spurn it."
When Éomer stared at her she added. "We don't usually serve that to guests not used to seafood."
He was momentarily lost for words and could only give another bow when she took her leave. "I will see you in the morning," she said with a last backward glance over her shoulder.
Éomer slowly turned to Amrothos who was hiding his face in his hands, his shoulders shaking with silent laughter. At that moment only the fact that Éomer was hoping to become his brother-in-law in the near future saved the youngest Prince of Dol Amroth from being disembowelled on the spot.
And even then it was a close call.
Edoras, December of Third Age 3020.
He should have known better. At least his head had stopped pounding in rhythm with his heart and he no longer wanted to end his miserable existence then and there, but he had definitely had better days. But he really should have known better.
Amrothos broke off a piece of bread and soaked up some of the gravy on his plate with it. He chewed it carefully and felt his spirits rise when he was able to keep it down. When one of the serving girls offered to fill his goblet with wine he even managed a smile and she gave him a saucy wink in response before moving on to serve the other guests. She was tall and blonde, but then they all were here, his own dark looks, so common in Gondor, being exotic for once.
His glance wandered to the head table where the newly wedded King and Queen of Rohan sat enjoying their meal. His sister was smiling at her husband, incandescent with happiness, and Éomer seemed to have eyes for nothing but his wife of a day's standing. Amrothos grinned to himself. By the looks of them they would retire soon. It was customary in Rohan to celebrate a wedding with three days of feasting and this was the second night, the first night being in fact the reason why he was feeling so much under the weather.
A heavy hand descended on his shoulder and a hearty voice boomed in his ear.
"Well, lad, so have you recovered yet?"
The table shook as the dwarf placed three tankards of ale on it, the contents slopping over the side. Amrothos stared at them and could feel his stomach beginning to roil. Not again!
"We thought we'd bring you something to wet your throat before the drinking proper begins." Legolas had taken a seat on his other side and now gave him a bland smile.
Amrothos groaned inwardly. That was exactly how yesterday's calamitous course of events had started. He did not have a clear memory of what had happened, only that there had been copious amounts of ale involved and that he had passed out at some stage of the proceedings, waking up the next day feeling like death warmed over.
He carefully shook his head, determined to learn something from the experience. "Thank you very much, but I think I'll abstain tonight."
"What a shame," Gimli sounded disgustingly cheerful, "so you yield?"
Yield? A dim recollection rose from the recesses of his still befuddled mind. Hadn't there been some sort of bet? Whatever. There was no way he could face so much as another drop of ale.
He gave a weak nod. "I yield." Now why couldn't they just leave him alone. His head had started to ache again.
"Splendid." The elf beckoned to somebody, "as it happens we have already had your forfeit prepared for you."
His forfeit? He felt the first faint stirrings of panic as somebody stopped in front of their table. It was the blond serving girl again and for a moment he just stared at her in bewilderment. Then his glance fell on the tray she was carrying. On it was a single dish, and when Legolas took the lid off with a flourish he looked at its content with incomprehension.
There were three small round objects on the plate, their colour a pale sickly white and in the subdued light from the torches they seemed to glisten slightly. Amrothos suddenly became aware of the fact that conversation at his table had stilled and everybody was looking at him expectantly.
Belatedly his instinct for danger kicked in, but the doors to great Hall of Meduseld were very far away. "What is this?" he asked cautiously.
It was a new voice that answered his question. "A local specialty from the Westmark," the King of Rohan drawled, coming up behind him, "said to be absolutely delicious, though I've never tried it myself."
He gave his brother-in-law a wide grin and Amrothos was suddenly reminded of the fact that here stood one of Middle Earth's most famed warriors.
"Sheep's eyes," Éomer explained, relishing every word.
Amrothos stared down at his plate in horror. It stared right back.
Lothiriel greeted her husband with a worried look when he joined her at the head table again.
"What's the matter with my brother?" she asked.
"Amrothos? He's just feeling the repercussions of last night's drinking contest," Éomer replied smoothly, but she wasn't fooled by his innocent tone.
"He looks ill," she pointed out, "What are those things he's eating?"
"Just a delicacy he wanted to try," Éomer said with a secretive smile, "pickled quail's eggs."
Lothiriel frowned, but decided to let the matter rest for now. After all she would find out eventually what was going on, she always did. Then Éomer slipped an arm around her waist and bent to whisper in her ear.
"Shall we retire now, my lady wife?"
Feeling her husband's warm breath chasing pleasurable shivers down her back, the Queen of Rohan forgot all about her brother.
After all Amrothos was old enough to look after himself.