We cannot fashion our children after our desires,
we must have them and love them as God has given them to us.
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 1749 –1832)
Amrothos of Dol Amroth gazed down at the three young Princes of Rohan, hoping that he looked authoritative enough to make an impression on the infernal triplet. The problem with any offspring the King of Rohan and his wife, the former Princess of Dol Amroth, had produced so far was that the brats were too clever, too unpredictable and simply unflappable.
Not to mention that they were as thick as thieves. There was no point in ordering them to expose who had been the ringleader of their latest misconduct. It didn't matter anyway. When it came to thinking up new mischief, they complemented each other extraordinarily well. Ælfwine, the eldest and heir to the House of Eorl – Amrothos truly commiserated with Rohan and its people – probably had decided that something needed to be done. Éomund, the next in line, would have come up with the plan and Hroðgar – although the youngest of the outrageous threesome – had - in all likelihood - carried out whatever they felt had to be carried out.
Why, Amrothos asked himself silently, not expecting any deity to listen and certainly not to answer his question, why had it to be him? Why had he happened to be in Edoras whilst Rohan's royal couple had gone away, having left behind their dear offspring? Not that he would blame his sister and her husband for abandoning their brood for a couple of sennights. Everybody needed a break now and then. Had he been blessed with this sort of proof of a passionate love, he would have run as far as he could from it, long ago. The way it looked, it was more likely that Lothíriel and Éomer would bestow additional little Rohirrim upon this world. Right now, Amrothos just counted himself lucky that apparently the nursemaids were still able to handle the two youngest of the lot - the two-year-old twins Forðred and Đéodwyn. Otherwise, some desperate member of the royal household might have expected him to deal with them as well.
He managed to stifle a resigned sigh - which could have been interpreted correctly as helplessness - and tried to stare his nephews down. His glare was met by three sets of eyes, their glares on a par with his. Hard to believe that these little rascals were only nine, eight and six years old. Sweet Elbereth, he hadn't been a paragon of virtue at that age, but he hadn't been actually dangerous either.
"Very well," Amrothos said in his most imperative tone of voice. "What happened to Master Caevudor?"
Master Caevudor was a Gondorian tutor, supposed to teach the Princes of Rohan refined manners. In Amrothos's humble opinion – for which nobody had bothered to ask - the man had been doomed to failure from the very beginning. But after they had filled their grandfather Imrahil's water jug with frogspawn when he had been visiting the last time – Gondor's mightiest vassal actually had taken a sip when he felt thirsty during the night - and then nailed his riding boots to the floor, even Lothíriel – who was slightly biased when it came to her children - had to admit that something needed to be done. That annoying habit of their letting their exploratory urges run free at the expense of others, could not continue. They would certainly not grow out of it by themselves.
How could anybody have acted on the assumption that some hapless scholar from Gondor would make an impression upon the next generation of the House of Eorl?
"What is wrong with Master Caevudor?" Hroðgar asked innocently, looking - without batting a lid of his large gold-and-green eyes - up at his uncle.
"You tell me," Amrothos replied with poorly concealed impatience. "Mistress Ælfgyth informed me earlier this morning that your tutor spent the entire night with his head in a bucket, emptying his stomach of its contents, after having had taken his night meal in your company." He didn't specifically mention that the man was still throwing up, very much to the amazement of the healer. There shouldn't be anything left inside him to regurgitate.
"Master Caevudor thinks it important that we take all our meals in his company so he can correct any misuse of the cutlery at once," Éomund informed him – unnecessarily. His uncle knew that the tutor had set out to polish the young princes' table manners. Not that that was really needed. They were able to produce the proper eating habits whenever they chose to . . . they just rarely did so – at least in their parents' absence.
Amrothos turned his attention towards number two of the pack. It was downright ridiculous how much this boy looked like a small version of his father, culminating in a couple of cowlicks at the nape of his neck. Not that he had ever checked Éomer personally for such cowlicks, but Lothíriel had mentioned it once. On the other hand, Éomund's phlegmatic nature reminded him very much of his brother by blood, Erchirion, who hardly ever lost his temper.
"And nothing out of the ordinary happened during that meal?" Of course, something had happened during that particular meal. Something always happened when the Princes were around. He just had to find out what exactly they had done to their tutor so that the healer could carry out the proper treatment.
"He complained that the Rohirric food does not agree with him and gives him a sore tummy," Ælfwine stated, as usual a challenging tone underlying his voice.
He was a beautiful child, having inherited his mother's fine bone structure and her large slanted eyes, their colour the clear silvery grey of the Dúnedain. He was blond, however, the colour of his hair having darkened over the last couple of years to that of an old gold coin. He was no doubt a Rohír through and through, and he was blessed with an explosive temper that was said to rival that of his late paternal grandfather, the legendary Chief Marshal of the Mark who had had charge of the east marches. When one did not see Ælfwine, one did certainly hear him – or at least one was able to hear where he was.
Very well, there was no point beating about the bush. These were Rohirrim, small Rohirrim, but Rohirrim none the less. If you wanted a straight answer, you had to ask a straight question.
"What did you feed him against his stomach aches?"
There was a short exchange of glances, appointing Éomund as their spokesman. "Marigold," the boy declared laconically.
That had been too easy. Amrothos knew his nephews well enough and he had been the brother of a healer long enough to know that there was some important detail of information missing.
"Marigold . . . what?" he prompted.
Éomund sighed the sigh of a long-suffering man. "Oil," he came out with the essential bit.
"Very well, I will go now and tell Master Goðhold, so he can treat your tutor. You will stay here and wait for me." He had summoned the lot to their father's study. "You will not move. You will not even lift a finger. You will not touch anything, you will not throw anything and you will not set fire to anything." He just hoped that those directives covered everything that could come to their mind during his brief absence.
He found Goðhold the Healer awaiting him in the Great Hall.
"They smuggled marigold oil into one of his dishes after he complained that traditional Rohirric food causes him stomach problems."
"Ah, that explains it." The man nodded pensively. "The children simply made a mistake. They needed to have given him marigold tea. The oil is only for outer use."
If there was something Amrothos was absolutely certain about, then it was that the dear children had made no mistake.
"Now I know how to treat Caevudor," the healer went on. "And I can assure him that nobody has tried to poison him. He appeared slightly hysterical earlier," he added, shaking his head at this ridiculous assumption.
Amrothos watched the man rushing back to his patient. Goðhold was one of the healers Lothíriel had selected, trained at first herself and then sent for a couple of years to Minas Tirith where he had completed his education at the Houses of Healing. He was a highly competent man. However, as the royal offspring – and the King – were usually treated by the Queen herself, Goðhold had never had to take up a close personal acquaintance with the three Princes of Rohan and therefore his leniency towards them was comprehensible. Their uncle, on the other hand, though quite certain that they hadn't tried to cause deadly harm to their tutor – in that case they would have resorted to hemlock or some similar reliable poison – was equally certain that they had known perfectly well that marigold oil was not supposed to find its way inside a person.
The Prince of Dol Amroth paused outside the King of Rohan's study, trying to overcome the antipathy he felt towards re-entering the room and confronting its current occupants again. It was not that he didn't like his nephews. He liked them a lot – at least when he could act merely as an uninvolved – though amused - observer of their latest antics. Right now he would have preferred to be with own family. His children were perfectly harmless. But then, any child was, in comparison to his sister's three sons, the embodiment of an innocent little lamb.
He had left his wife and two daughters a day's journey back in Aldburg, entrusted to the care of his wife's family. He had had to leave them there. Their eldest, Annereth, had refused with all the emphasis a six-year old had at her disposal to come near the Princes ever again. Her hair was just growing back after it had to be chopped off when her dear cousins had decided to find out what happened when one spread a thin layer of honey all over a pillow on which a little girl with a mass of curls was supposed to rest her head for the night.
Well, they could have had come up with something worse.
When Elphir had finally roused himself to pay his sister a visit last autumn – the first time since she had become Queen of Rohan – they had dusted the sheets of his bed with the ground up seeds of rosehips. Lothíriel had been very proud of them, because she believed that they had found out all on their own that the powder caused an awful itch. Elphir had spent the better part of two days in a bathtub, in water enriched with the juice of the jewelweed. And Amrothos had learnt from Hroðgar – that one still had to learn how to keep his mouth shut - that they had been told by Éomer about the properties of the rosehip seed and that their father had admitted to them having used it for his own pranks as a youngster.
Amrothos had his doubts that it had been by mere chance that the King of Rohan had acknowledged his childhood sins to his sons just when that particular brother-in-law of his was about to arrive in Edoras. Éomer knew his sons quite well, and therefore he must have known that the temptation to put what they had learnt into immediate action would be just too great for the princes. And that the uncle, whom they only knew from not always complimentary anecdotes, would be their most likely target.
No, it wasn't beneath the great King of Rohan to avail himself of his sons.
Just when Amrothos was about to re-enter the King's study – although he had no idea how to proceed with his poor attempts to discipline his nephews - a huge creature suddenly appeared in front of him. An uninitiated soul would only at a third glance – that was, if he hadn't made a bolt for it at the first glance – have realized that it was a dog. The children's dog. He looked like a black bear, had the size of a young bull, the temper of a wounded boar and was cleverer than a fox. The perfect pet for the Princes of Rohan.
And at the moment he smelt like rotten fish.
"Bah, Draca." Amrothos pinched his nose. "What sludge have you wallowed in?"
The overgrown pet threw him a blasé glance, emphasizing his low regard for his masters' uncle with an exaggerated yawn. Another cloud of foul air attacked Amrothos. He staggered backwards.
"Sweet Elbereth! Have you grown a scent gland?"
The dog grinned at him, showing off his imposing fangs. Somewhere down the line of his obscure ancestors there must have been a warg or two. No ordinary parents would have trusted a beast like this with their children.
Well, if there was anything Amrothos would be willing to affirm with absolute certainty, it was that his sister and her husband were far from being ordinary parents. They were loving and caring, no doubt, but their idea of a decent upbringing for their brood had to be considered as rather unique. As far as the prince knew, there was only one established rule and that said: blood and broken bones are to be avoided. It was not always quite clear if that rule included other people's blood and bones or only those of the children.
As long as both or even one of their parents were around, one could live relatively carefree in the Golden Hall. The infernal threesome was - most of the time - at pains to earn the approval and respect of their father and they simply adored their mother. They tried their best not to give too much trouble their parents, who – in return - always allowed them points for effort alone. Although not even their mother could ignore the fact that they more often than not failed to give no trouble. Most mischief they got into, however, was looked upon by Lothíriel in terms of imaginative or resourceful. Éomer seemed to view his children in that they had caused his ladylove the discomfort of a pregnancy and the pain of birth – something he had to be counted, if not solely at least partly, responsible for - and therefore they had to be regarded as some kind of valuable gift to him from his wife.
And obviously Rohan's King was determined not to look these gift horses too deeply in their mouths.
Whilst contemplating his chances of getting into the King's study without the filthy, foul-smelling mongrel pushing his way through to his momentarily detained masters, Amrothos heard swift footsteps approaching. Slanting a glance over his shoulder, he saw Ælfgyth, the steadfast housekeeper of Meduseld, walking at her usual brisk pace across the great hall. She obviously had the intention of speaking to him once again and he had no chance of escape.
"My Lord Amrothos," she addressed him.
Being wary of another domestic problem being foisted upon him, Amrothos made haste to forestall her, "Mistress Ælfgyth, I was able to squeeze the children for the vital clue. Master Goðhold has already set about treating Caevudor. He will survive."
The housekeeper didn't succeed in concealing a smile at his apprehensive tone. "I did not expect Master Caevudor to be in any danger of losing his life. The children are not heartless."
"You mean they are not that cold blooded . . . yet," Amrothos rectified her remark.
"They are just little boys and they have plenty of energy to expend."
In the past Amrothos had never noticed that the Rohirrim leaned towards extenuations. "Why is everybody around here so intent on excusing whatever those little hellions get up to? What is this? A conspiracy of the lenient and the blind?"
"Rohan is very proud of its princes." Ælfgyth didn't even blink.
"Rohan should be very cautious of its princes. One day one of them will rule here."
"They are your nephews."
"Excuse me." The prince frowned at the housekeeper. "I absolutely refuse to be held responsible for that fact."
"You are their 'eam', their mother's brother. Therefore you are their legal guardian in their parents' absence."
"There are two more 'eamas'," he reminded her, knowing how weak that argument was.
"But you are the only one who is present."
She'd got a point there.
"Which surprisingly proves that my brothers' sense of self-preservation is much better developed than mine."
Not entirely true. It mainly proved that Lothíriel's and Éomer's offspring hadn't made a serious attempt yet to put him to rout as they had done with Elphir and Erchirion. It was highly in doubt that Elphir would consider another visit in the near future, meaning within the next two decades. Except – as he had demanded – if his sister's sons were to be kept in kennels for such a period of time. He and Lothíriel had not parted on good terms.
And even Erchirion, who was blessed with a much greater sense of humour, preferred to keep his nephews at bay. After having fallen victim to one of their pranks last summer he had purchased a small house downhill from the Golden Hall where he and his family could dwell in relative security while visiting Edoras.
Just thinking about that particular incident made Amrothos snigger. They had manipulated the rope lacing of the four-poster in the bedchamber that Erchirion and his wife had occupied. The movements of certain marital activities that night had not only loosened the lacing so that the mattress had given way but – for good measure - the canopy had caved in and the occupants of the bed had become buried underneath the wooden frame and the opulent folds of the curtains. It hadn't helped that Éomer – summoned to the chamber by the commotion – hadn't been able to stay on his feet and had sank down to the floor, his back against the wall, shaken by laughter. One could hardly fault him for that. The sight of Erchirion, desperately trying to cover his and his wife's nudity and at the same time trying to clear away the debris had made himself, Amrothos, laugh at least as hard as Rohan's king.
What had eventually put the tin lid on it for Erchirion, however, had been Lothíriel's remark on the situation. She had commended the fact that the boys had not just cut off the end knot of the construction, so that the bed would break down as soon as somebody got into it. In her opinion it showed a true understanding of physics that they had manipulated the rope strings in a way that some additional ground motion was needed for the successful completion of their little scheme. She hadn't been happy when Erchirion had called the apples of her eye devious. She thought them rather ingenious and creative – which reminded Amrothos that he had read somewhere that the urge for destruction was also a creative urge - and her brother narrow-minded and without a sense of humour. It was the only time Amrothos could recall that his older brother had looked as if he were about to throttle their sister. Not that he would have had the slightest chance doing so as long as Éomer had been in the same room, although their brother-in-law had been suffering severely from laughing fits.
The next day Erchirion's sense of humour had returned and he and Lothíriel had become reconciled. Nevertheless, the very same day he had also bought the old abode of Marshal Éothain, who had just moved to a new, larger house that better accommodated his ever-expanding family.
Amrothos groaned. Unfortunately the fact remained that he was now the only 'eam' who hadn't allowed reason to prevail and made a strategic withdrawal. Perhaps he should consider relocating his family to Gondor. With every year the princes got older, life in Rohan bore the danger of becoming more hazardous.
For the time being that was pie in the sky anyway.
"Very well, what do you want me to do?" he asked in surrender.
"My Lord, I would never dare . . ."
"Ælfgyth!" he interrupted impatiently.
"You have to exhaust them."
"Everybody will rest much happier if we know the boys are sound asleep and therefore accounted for . . . at least at night."
Now that was a statement Amrothos could easily comprehend. The question, however, remained: how to achieve such a blissful state?
"I could have them driven across the plains," he contemplated. "On foot, of course."
The housekeeper cleared her throat meaningfully.
"What?" he asked wryly. "I can hardly take them riding or to the training field for some sword practice."
"Indeed," Ælfgyth nodded. "That could easily be misinterpreted as approval of their misconduct."
"It might also tempt them in the future to knock anybody aside who momentarily bores them." Amrothos crossed his arms. "So, what am I suppose to do with the pack?" His eyes darted around the great hall in the desperate hope of finding some cue. They came to rest on the big, black beast claiming to be a dog. Its smell hadn't improved. "To begin with they could give him a good wash. That would kill two birds with one stone. They would be occupied with some tiring exercise and our noses would be given a rest."
"And afterwards somebody would have to give each boy a good scrub," the housekeeper objected.
"Mistress Ælfgyth," he cut in on her with an upraised hand, "it is not even noon and when I called in the dear children they already looked as if they had spent the morning crawling through a charcoal heap. What is the chance that you don't have to scrub them tonight anyway?"
He took her resigned look as the affirmation that he had a point. A couple of years ago Éomer had put up a bath house behind the Golden Hall where the three princes could be given their daily - badly needed - cleaning without the servants having to haul barrels of hot water to their shared bedchamber. It was also preferable in regard to the condition of that chamber.
"I will send them down to the watering place to clean the mutt. I hope that gives me enough time to come up with something feasible." He turned to push open the door to the King's study. Taking a deep breath he muttered through gritted teeth. "Éomer is going to owe me for this."
'draca' - dragon
'eam' – uncle; mother's brother. In Anglo-Saxon traditions the 'eam' was the natural guardian of children (and the mother). The father's brother, 'fædera', had no function.
'eamas' - plural of 'eam'
"The urge for destruction is also a creative urge." (Michael Bakunin, 1814 – 1876)