One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers,
but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings.
The curriculum is so much necessary raw material,
but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant
and for the soul of the child.
(Carl Jung, 1875 – 1961)
By noon, the residents of Rohan's capital had managed by a combined effort to put out the fire. Their great success was that they had prevented it from escalating and spreading to other buildings, which could have easily have led to the destruction of the entire lower part of the city.
Amrothos was - to put it mildly - worn out. The tension that had kept him going all morning had expired together with the flames. Without prior warning, fatigue hit him like a poleaxe. He leant against the palisades that surrounded the training field for some support. His back hurt, his arms hurt and his eyes and throat stung. And if the way his hands looked was an indication of his appearance in general, he could have rivalled any charcoal burner. As could have all the others who had battled the blaze. Under less serious circumstances he would have considered the sight of all those soot-blackened figures to be quite funny.
Hearing footsteps, he looked back over his shoulder and saw Ecgbehrt approaching. The old carpenter had obviously inspected the catapult . . . and the ammunition that had led to the disaster.
"My Lord," the carpenter greeted him, resting his arms on top of the fence. "That was some kind of wakeup call, that's for sure."
Amrothos groaned. "I still cannot believe that they really did cause that fire. Do you have any idea what they actually did?"
"I had a look at it just now." The old man pointed with his thumb back over his shoulder at the catapult. "They have got a flagon with some of the spirit the healers use for disinfecting and it seems they got a few balls of wool from the weaving chambers." He glanced pointedly at the Prince. "Balls of wool," he repeated. "Does that remind you of something?"
For a long moment Amrothos's mind stayed perfectly blank. But then, in sudden realisation, he slapped his forehead with his palm. "Why should we use balls of wool?" he recalled aloud Ælfwine's question from the previous day. "After that Éomund said something about dunking them in oil."
Ecgbehrt nodded in grim remorse. "That was when I interrupted him."
"And I did not pay attention. Damnation. Éomund and his ingenious ideas. They tried to hurl a ball of burning wool over the barn." He shook his head, rubbing with both hands over his face. "It was my fault. They are too young to fully assess the risk. I should have told them not to operate the catapult without me or another custodian in attendance."
"My Lord, most of my life I have instructed apprentice boys. When they come to me, they are older than the Princes, but in many ways still very much children. And after all these years and all those boys, it never ceases to amaze me, how differently their minds work from ours. Never take for granted that things are for them the same as for you."
"Thank you for the well-intentioned comfort as well as a useful piece of advice, Ecgbehrt, but I am afraid both come a little bit too late." He gave a crooked half-smile. "I am really looking forward to what Éomer will have to say."
"Do not worry too much," the 'ealdorman' reassured him – although his sympathy sounded slightly mocking. "Éomer King has become much more . . . serene over the years. Nowadays he saves his fits of temper for the kind of incidents that really matter."
Had he not heard it with his own ears, Amrothos would have never believed that somebody had really characterised the King of Rohan as serene.
"And you do not think that the burning down of a barn will be enough to raise the King's rage?"
"Not necessarily." Ecgbehrt shook his head, amused and unconcerned. "Three days, four at the most and you will find Master Gimli arriving. And as soon as he gets here, he and the King will begin to plan not only a new barn but . . . I really do not know. Just let us wait and see how this part of the city is going to look by the end of the summer."
Those words of comfort had hardly been spoken, when a horn sounded from one of the watchtowers. The signal that heralded the King. The guards had sighted the royal procession approaching Edoras. On top of the towers the standards of the King and the Queen were hoisted, announcing that Rohan's sovereigns were back in residence.
Amrothos would have appreciated being allowed more time. "Sweet Elbereth, it is just noon. I thought they would not be back before the end of the day."
At his uncommonly subdued tone, Ecgbehrt gave a chuckle. "I heard that the King had planned to spend last night at Upbourn and meet Lord Æðelwærd of Harrowdale. So they had to cover barely twelve miles this morning."
"Could you not have given me more notice so that I would have had the chance to seek shelter somewhere?" the Prince asked resigned, but he set out for the stable yard.
The open space, flanked on two sides by the huge stables for the stallions and the mares and on a third by the destroyed barn, was wide enough to easily accommodate the entire éored of the Royal Guard as well as the two dozen other riders in the entourage of King and Queen. Within a few short moments the gates had admitted nearly a hundred and fifty horses and riders inside the walls of the city, headed by the Lord of the Land.
For years now the central parts of Rohan had been secure again for all travellers and Éomer was wearing neither mail nor armour but plain riding clothes devoid of any finery, as he preferred them. Nobody, however, would have taken him for a common rider. The King of the Mark had a natural presence one found impossible to overlook. He sat on his magnificent and rather obstinate steed – the beast's master would have emphatically contradicted the latter appraisal - with a naturalness only a Rohír was able to display on horseback. He reined in the stallion and contemplated, apparently unperturbed, the still smouldering ruins of the barn.
Amrothos didn't dare to put too much trust in that tranquillity. When he came up to Éomer, his brother-in-law seemed to sense his presence and turned towards him, thoughtfully taking in his sooty appearance.
"Ēalā, Amrothos. Is there a particular reason why the barn was burned to the ground?"
"Ēalā, Éomer. Welcumen bæc." Amrothos returned the greeting, then paused, searching for a fairly straight answer to – what was essentially – a complex question. "I am afraid it is not only a long story but also a complicated one."
"Complicated?" The Rohír dismounted. "I should have known that this faint hope of mine that just for once something involving you might turn out to be simple had to be in vain." He handed the reins to a stable-hand, who had come running to take over his king's horse. Éomer bid the big slate-grey farewell with a slap on his hind quarters, but the wilful steed was already occupied in attempting to get a nip at his handler.
"What makes you think that the fire has something to do with me?" Amrothos asked with genuine indignation, although he had – admittedly – very little reason to be in a huff.
"It has not?"
At the sound of his sister's voice, Amrothos spun around. Having concentrated his attention on Éomer, he'd missed Lothíriel in the milling crowd of men and horses. Unperceived by him, she had already dismounted and must have handed her mare over to Osmund, her personal stable-lad. Now she stood there, just a couple of yards away, regarding her brother's filthiness with that look of composed tolerance that she usually reserved for her offspring.
After ten years of marriage and five children, Lothíriel still looked like a fawn but was – according to her husband - as tough as a mule. Which was – according to Lothíriel – the basic requirement for a woman wedded to Éomer. Not to mention for the Queen of the Rohirrim. And she was the only woman Amrothos knew of, whose husband used – undisputedly - 'mīn lytle mūl' as a term of endearment.
Said husband raised a sceptical eyebrow at his brother-in-law. "Indeed," he mused. "What could it be that makes both of us think intuitively that you might have been involved somehow in the creation of this chaos?"
"Thirty years of experience?" Lothíriel suggested amiably.
"My personal experience goes back for only ten years," Éomer reminded her and added under his breath, "Bema, Þoncie Þē."
Amrothos decided that, at this point, he could still afford some indignation. "I can assure you, I was not directly involved in the outbreak of the fire. I was in my bed."
"The favoured whereabouts of the presumed innocent," his sister teased before her voice became more serious. "Has anybody been injured?"
Amrothos could put her at ease. "Only a few burns, mostly caused by flying embers, and somebody got knocked down by an empty bucket. All casualties have been treated by Goðhold and his healers."
"And what did cause the fire?"
"Ahh . . ." Amrothos really wished he had taken the time to work out a prudent answer to Éomer's question - which had to come as sure as eggs were eggs.
"Amrothos!" There was a clear warning in the eyes of Rohan's King. "I want one short sentence."
"Well, the fire was caused by a catapult." That was a short sentence, wasn't it?
But short sentences were also perfectly able to produce some confusion. Even with two people who were usually rather quick to understand complex matters.
"A catapult?" Lothíriel's expression settled into a frown. "Since when do we have a catapult?"
"A very good question, 'mīn se lēofesta'," Éomer smiled ominously at the other man. "And I am certain your brother has a straight answer."
"Since yesterday." Amrothos knew he was playing with fire – bad pun – but he simply couldn't resist. After all, Éomer had demanded short sentences.
"It certainly did not fall from the sky," Lothíriel pointed out.
"It was built."
"For somebody who has a generally acknowledged talent for convoluted sentences, you are suspiciously monosyllabic today." Éomer began to sound impatient. "Why did you build a catapult?"
Rohan's King, on the other hand, had an undisputed talent for unequivocal questions, which demanded unambiguous answers – even from Amrothos of Dol Amroth. But the latter wasn't a man who gave up quickly.
"I did not actually build it. It was rather that I had the stewardship of the construction."
"Then who actually built it under your stewardship?" Éomer pointed his forefinger at the other man's face. "And no more quips."
In a way Amrothos was looking forward to finally throwing the fat into the fire.
"Ælfwine, Éomund and Hroðgar."
The parents of the named, stared at him. Lothíriel was the first who recovered if not her poise, her speech. "You let them build a catapult?" she exclaimed, flabbergasted. "And let them fire something off?"
"You know, Amrothos," Éomer kept his voice painfully neutral, "life in the Mark without you would not be the same." He gave the younger man a look of mingled annoyance and disbelief. "Where is this . . . masterpiece?"
Silently, the Prince pointed toward the training field and then led the way to the spot at the fence where he had earlier stood with Ecgbehrt. Amrothos noted that despite his theory that his king had turned into patience personified, the 'ealdorman' had preferred to retreat from the potential battlefield.
The royal couple observed the catapult for a while from a distance without saying a word. Finally Lothíriel cleared her throat.
"It looks . . . big."
"Fairly big," her husband agreed. "Amrothos, I thought that you had comprehended that our sons are nuisances as they are," Rohan's King enlightened his brother-in-law, who noted that there was no disapproval of that statement by the mother of the nuisances.
Éomer went on, "We try our utmost to prevent letting them get their hands on anything that could be used remotely as a weapon. And you had nothing better to do than help them to build a siege machine? A siege machine!" he repeated, ignoring the Prince's mumbled objection that it was only a rather small catapult. "Quite frankly, I am surprised they managed to destroy only the one barn."
"Why were you playing with them anyway?" Lothíriel wanted to know. "They were supposed to be occupied with their lessons. Before we left, I instructed Caevudor in what I wanted accomplished educationally by our return. There should not have been time for any kind of building activity."
"You must have forgotten to inform your sons about your wishes regarding their scholarly improvements," Amrothos reminded her with a false smile, "because they decided to put their tutor out of action."
"Out of action?" Éomer shifted his concentration from the catapult to the person responsible for it. "How did they manage to do that?"
"They fed him marigold oil."
"Marigold oil?" For a reason Amrothos didn't quite understand, the mentioning of that substance made Rohan's King grin. His Queen seemed to know why, because she gave her husband a reproachful frown. Otherwise she ignored him. Instead she directed another question at her brother.
"Where did they get the oil from?"
Yes, they'd known each other for thirty odd years and had never spent more than a few months apart. However, Amrothos still had failed to fully understand Lothíriel's way of thinking. She seldom said the things or asked the questions he expected her to say or ask. Not 'Why did my sons feed their tutor marigold oil?' or 'How did the poor man get over being poisoned?' No, she wanted to know where the culprits got the oil from.
"I did not ask," Amrothos admitted with a shrug of his shoulders.
But Lothíriel persisted with her query. "Why not?"
"I did not consider it important."
"Well, it is," his sister informed him with emphasis and explained, "It is strictly forbidden for them to help themselves to any of my remedies. If they have breached that rule, they know that it will have serious consequences."
"Is it also going to have consequences that they tried to poison their tutor?"
His sarcasm bypassed her – or she just ignored it due to long years of practice.
"You cannot poison a grown man with marigold oil," Lothíriel declared prosaically. "Nevertheless, that is no excuse for putting it in his food. What I do not understand is why he ate up whatever dish they put it in. It tastes awful and has a strong smell."
"Probably because our good Master Caevudor simply expects all Rohirric food to taste awful and have a peculiar smell," Éomer interrupted. "I think we are going to need a new tutor. I have been in contact with Erchirion already. I thought this time we would leave it to him to find a suitable candidate after the two Faramir sent us failed so pitifully. What I am much more interested in right now," Éomer came back to the more significant problem, "is if you asked them at least why they set fire to that barn?"
Amrothos heaved a silent sigh. This looked like it was going to turn into a full-scale interrogation.
"They tried to hurl a burning projectile over it. They must have miscalculated the range and hit the roof." He thought it a good idea to carry on with the short and precise answers.
"And why did they use a burning projectile?"
Amrothos couldn't help but get the impression that his brother-in-law was getting into the kind of mood that always got on his nerves. But it was an understandable question, no doubt. On the other hand, did the little hellions really need something like a rational reason?
"I do not have the slightest clue yet what gave them the idea in the first place or why they got up in the wee hours of the morning for some clandestine target practice."
"You did not ask them?"
"It was not the time. I just wanted them out of the way so they would not get hurt."
"I suppose you did not consider the question why they set fire to a barn important," Éomer remarked affably.
"Amrothos, you are a father yourself," Lothíriel stated a glorious and undisputable fact. "You should know that, when it comes to a child's action, it is always important to establish the who, what, where, with what, why, how and when."
"What?" Amrothos asked, momentarily befuddled and unable to do anything but scowl at the grinning King. He would have liked to explain that his own offspring were kind and friendly and easy to cope with, but after what he had learnt about Annareth the previous day, he thought it better to talk to his wife first about that biting habit before he nominated his daughters as shining examples of good behaviour.
Getting no immediate response, Lothíriel waved a hand dismissively. "Forget about it. Éomer and I shall talk to the boys ourselves. Where are they?"
Now came the really difficult part of the story. How to tell a mother that the apples of her eye had been banished to a damp, vermin-infected, dug-into-a-rock and void-of-any-daylight dungeon?
"Well, I was just about to go and get them when you arrived," he assured his sister.
"To get them from where?" Lothíriel slanted him an impatient look and repeated, "Where are they?"
"In the dungeon." It was out.
"In the dungeon?" Lothíriel eyed her brother incredulously and then blew out an irritated breath. "I must say, Amrothos, sometimes you are worse than the children. They are going to smell abominably."
That was not the reaction he had anticipated.
Rohan's Queen directed her next words to her husband. "I'd better go and get them out of there myself, before they have another unpleasant encounter with some rats. I think, however, that we should talk to them at once, before I have them scrubbed clean."
With that conclusion she turned and walked briskly up the hill towards the Golden Hall. The men followed with their eyes.
"Ahh, Éomer," Amrothos addressed the parent who had been left behind. "They haven't been in the dungeon for very long. I do not think that the rats are a danger to them." At least he hoped not or he wouldn't give a rat's behind for his head. Lothíriel would have it on a platter.
"I doubt that that is your sister's primary concern. She worries more for the rats . . . and for the people who live and work in the Hall." Éomer took his time to clarify this – preposterous – statement. His grin widened, probably because his brother-in-law looked just as puzzled as he felt. "You see, Amrothos, the last time I had the pack locked away in the dungeon in order to think over their latest misconduct in some peace and quiet, they caught two rats and smuggled them into their chamber to keep them as pets. Unfortunately for us, they got hold of a female and a male." Éomer looked at the other man with a comical frown. "Do you have any idea how quickly those rodents reproduce? And how difficult it is to clear a building the size of this Hall of all the vermin?" Rohan's King gave a deep-drawn sigh. "But the worst consequence was the constant shrieks from the servants. Those shrill screeches really got on my nerves."
Amrothos wondered if he should dare to laugh. "When did that happen?" he asked eventually.
"Shortly after your last visit. But do not worry about the cleanliness. Lothíriel thought it would be a good opportunity to give the entire Hall a very thorough cleaning after the winter. We decided to stay in Erchirion's house for that period of time." Éomer slanted his brother-in-law a curious look. "I am surprised you have not heard of this before."
"So am I," Amrothos replied but he was eminently interested in another question. "The great King of Rohan found it necessary to send his own sons to the dungeon?"
Éomer just shrugged his shoulders and returned the respectful greeting from a couple of women who passed them. "A man gets desperate from time to time." He made a gesture toward the main path and the friends began to walk uphill toward the Golden Hall, following the Queen but at a more leisurely pace.
"What was their misdeed?"
"They got Firefoot drunk."
And Amrothos had thought that after the burning down of the barn none of his nephews' escapades still held the ability to surprise him. A sober Firefoot could be described – with a lot of goodwill – as bad-tempered; an inebriated Firefoot . . . he would rather not envision. Or at least, he wouldn't like to come face to face with the big slate-grey after the stallion had got down a barrel.
"Were there any casualties?" he inquired, thinking in terms of a handful of maimed stable-lads.
"Mainly damage to the stall and a few bruises. Poor Firefoot was so drunk he could hardly keep on his legs and his hangover lasted three full days."
Amrothos flinched in sympathy. He had been lucky in comparison to the royal steed. None of his hangovers had ever lasted longer than a day . . . if one left aside his five-day-drinking bout after he had been caught in that compromising situation which had made him ultimately a – very happily - wedded man. And unlike the horse he had been able to ease his belly by throwing up.
"How did they get the ale into him?"
"Oh, Firefoot used to like his ale and got a sip now and then. But being greedy as he is, he drunk at least the entire bucket the boys had offered to him, all at once. And they had thought that such a big horse should be able to manage at least as much ale in one go as Gimli."
This time Amrothos couldn't keep his chuckle inside, even though still doubtful if the actual cause of the fire might have some serious consequences for him. "It seems that your horse cannot hold his liquor."
"When it came to heavy drinking, Firefoot used to be a novice. So three gallons of strong ale knocked him out cold." Éomer grinned. "Nowadays he is abstaining. The mere smell of ale will send him running."
"Clever beast," Amrothos remarked and received a pointed glance from his brother-in-law. "Excuse me. Nowadays I am abstaining. Although your sons could certainly drive a man to drink."
"You are not the first man who has mentioned that."
"And may I ask who the first one was?"
Amrothos decided to avoid the pitfall behind that laconic reply and remained silent, something that didn't come naturally to him. Today, however, a bit of restraint might prove to be favourable for his health.
In silent accord – for the time being - the two men continued their way uphill. The people they met greeted their King, quite obviously pleased to see him, with a cheerfulness unthinkable in Gondor. There, the respect his subjects undoubtedly showed for Elessar was accompanied by distance and filled with awe. The Rohirrim had proven in the past that they were unshakably loyal to the House of Eorl. They respected their King but also showed genuine affection for Éomer the man, and his family.
It was their candour and the deeply rooted sincerity of the Rohirrim that had once induced Amrothos to settle in the Mark. That mainly, but also because his wife, and all the good Rohirric qualities she possessed – which he loved dearly - would have had the effect of a ball of lightning on Gondorian society.
When they reached the high stair of stone leading up to the Golden Hall, Éomer, as usual, took two steps at a time, pulling ahead of his brother-in-law. At the stair's head he turned around to look down over the city, observing the stable yard in its new layout. When Amrothos came up to him he murmured cogitatively, "I think I will send a messenger to Glaemscrafu and ask Gimli to come to Edoras. We should take advantage of the situation and make a few structural alterations to the area around the stables."
Amrothos decided not to mention that the 'ealdorman' of Edoras had already expressed his suspicion that his King would happily seize this opportunity to indulge once more in his passion for building.
They greeted the single Doorward in front of Meduseld – Lothíriel had probably taken the other one with her to unlock the dungeon – and entered the Great Hall. Immediately something from behind the next column lunged with a shriek at Éomer and clung to his legs. Amrothos was so startled that he jumped a foot straight up into the air. He had become rather jumpy these days. Rohan's King – in contrast - didn't even flinch, just bent down and picked up the small child.
"Good day, son. I see you have escaped the nursemaids again."
Little Forðred smiled proudly at those words and hugged his father tightly around his neck. Another year or so and he might be able to seriously choke a less powerfully built person.
Éomer gently loosened the stranglehold and turned with the boy in his arm around towards the daylight coming in through the doors of the Hall. He brushed the golden locks from his son's forehead and now Amrothos could see that his youngest nephew was sporting a shiny reddish bump just below his hairline.
"That looks bright and new," his genitor commented. "How did it happen?"
"Đéodwyn," the little one lisped his twin's name.
"What did she hit you with?" his father wanted to know.
"She hit you with a spoon?"
"Wooden spoon," Forðred clarified.
"And I suppose she had a good reason," Éomer stated and set down his wriggling son. The boy dashed away, howling like a wolf whose tail was on fire.
Amrothos look at his retreating nephew, slightly dazed. "How do you bear with them, day in, day out?" he asked, all of a sudden feeling totally worn again.
"How did Imrahil bear with you? From what I have heard, you were not exactly a paragon of virtue."
"Perhaps," Amrothos conceded. Another pointed look from his brother-in-law led him to yield even further. "Probably. However, I was only one. The gap between Erchirion and myself was wide enough so that we did not work each other up. Erchirion rather had an alleviating influence."
"You mean he usually managed to cloud the mischief you had caused before your father became aware of it."
"Ahh . . ." How to contradict such a conclusion without actually lying?
Éomer took note of that obvious hesitation with knowingly raised eyebrows but refrained from directly commenting on it.
"Last year, when the boys played a couple of pranks on their grandfather and I tried to apologise for their misbehaviour, it was he who appeased my annoyance. Your father told me that over the years, he had convinced himself again and again that he had done everything to prevent any possible mischief his sons – and particularly you – could create, only to learn that, despite all his preliminary measures, one of you came up with something no adult in his usual mindset could have foreseen. He advised me always to remember that it is we, the adults, who fail to feelsituations from a child's point of view, and that failure leads us to teach them other than what we think we are teaching them."
"And what are you going to teach your sons today?"
"That everything you do in your life has consequences. And that any punishment just for the sake of punishment is pointless."
Right on cue Rohan's Queen herded her eldest offspring - and their pet dog - into the Hall after having freed them from their cold and dark prison. The threesome had got even filthier during their detention and there was indeed a peculiar smell to them. But most notably, they looked more crestfallen than Amrothos had ever seen them before.
Éomer regarded his sons with a solemn glance.
"Gōdne dæg, Fæder," they murmured simultaneously.
It was obvious to Amrothos that his nephews would have had preferred to have been left in the dungeon, but he had to acknowledge that they showed backbone. As downcast as they might feel, they looked unwaveringly straight into their father's stern face, something that one or other seasoned warrior had failed to do.
"I think we need to discuss your recent behaviour."
Éomer's voice was mild but held that unmistakable tone. The one which, while impossible to describe, was easy enough to recognize. Had it been directed towards him, Amrothos would have known that the time had come to pay attention.
Unfortunately the solemnity of the situation was ruined by the rapturous shriek of a child. Little Forðred had discovered his mother and came dashing across the Hall. His father took a step aside and also his brothers got out of his way to clear a path for him – straight into Lothíriel's arms. She bent down to catch the toddler and he helped her to lift him by bouncing off the floor. She settled him on her hip and Forðred wrapped his arms around her neck, placing a sloppy kiss on her cheek.
"Mīn dēorling," Lothíriel returned his kiss. "Have you escaped the nursemaids again?"
The answer was an – for his uncle – incoherent flood of words. His mother, on the other hand, had apparently no problem in understanding the babytalk. She listened attentively.
"Now, why should Đéodwyn do something like that?" she asked. While Forðred babbled on, she pushed the strands of his silky baby hair from his forehead to examine the small swelling. "That was not very nice of you," she admonished him gently. "If you were still hungry, you should have asked your nursemaid for another piece of honeycake and not eaten your sister's."
That explained the spoon attack.
Éomer had kept his austere face but Amrothos saw the tender gleam in his eyes while watching his youngest son happily reunited with his mother. Nevertheless, he gave his order tersely, "Let us all proceed to my study,"
Amrothos went ahead and opened the door for his sister to precede him. "In a pot?" he heard Lothíriel say. "And you got stuck? What an adventure."
Draca tried to sneak behind his masters into the King's study but was stopped by a firm "Sit!" from Éomer. Obligingly, the huge dog plopped down on his bottom. No doubt, he had come to understand who was the Lord of this Hall. The last thing Amrothos saw of him before the door was closed on his furry face was a pair of doleful eyes.
Lothíriel took her seat in a chair that stood behind the desk next to Éomer's and Forðred wiggled around a bit to find the most comfortable position on her lap. Éomer himself waited until the three culprits had taken position in front of them, as usual getting in line in accordance with their age. Amrothos, leaning against the large council table at the other end of the study, observed his nephews. Soon they might have to consider rearranging their line-up corresponding to their size. In another year Éomund should have caught up with Ælfwine in height.
Their father sat down and propped his elbows on the desk. Unsmiling he looked at them over his loosely folded hands and they returned his gaze, doing their best not to blink. Just when Éomer opened his mouth to begin the harangue, there was a knock at the door. Rohan's King made a sharp sound of impatience, which whoever was on the other side of the door took as permission to enter. When it opened, a tiny figure squeezed into the study as soon as the gap was wide enough.
With a squeal of delight the little girl rushed across the floor and hurled herself in the direction of her father's arms. Since Ðéodwyn had learnt to walk, Éomer had become quite adept at catching little girls, midair.
All the while the King of the Horselords was showered with wet pecks and kisses – Amrothos tried not to laugh, which wasn't easy - a nursemaid stepped into the room and curtseyed.
"My Lord; my Lady. I beg your pardon for intruding. But when Ðéodwyn became aware that you had returned, I could not hold her back."
"That is quite all right, Ecgið," Lothíriel assured her, slanting her husband and their daughter an amused glance. They were having a similar conversation to what she'd had earlier with the twin brother. "You can leave her with us."
The nursemaid curtseyed again and left. When she had said that there had been no holding the little girl when she had heard of her parents' return, she hadn't been quite truthful, as the object of Ðéodwyn's affection was clearly her father. But with four sons worshipping the ground she walked on, Lothíriel could afford the generosity of accepting with good grace that she came only third in her daughter's favour, after Éomer . . . and a pet goose named Ælfetu.
It took Éomer a moment to calm the excitedly twittering Ðéodwyn. Settling on his lap, the little girl with her big grey eyes finally found the time to greet her mother. She reached for Lothíriel who took the chubby hand and placed a kiss on her palm. Coming so close together on their parents' laps, the twins eyed each other reproachfully.
"Now that all our children are accounted for," Éomer declared wryly, "we can begin to examine those unpleasant incidents that have occurred during your mother's and my absence." His last words were aimed directly at his three eldest sons, his voice perilously soft. They straightened their spines, but they met his gaze bravely. "Shall we begin with the question of why you found it necessary to poison your tutor?" Éomer sat silently, waiting for a response.
The three exchanged brief glances. Ælfwine took it upon himself to answer.
"He always complains about Rohirric food. That it is too heavy and not well enough cooked."
"It is not refined enough for his taste," Éomund threw in.
Hroðgar nodded. "Sophicated."
"Sophisticated," his eldest brother corrected him. "And he said that about ale."
"That ale is not a sophisticated drink," Éomund clarified. "Only ordinary people drink it. People with no breeding."
"I thought we breed horses? And cows and sheep." Hroðgar looked slightly confused.
And Amrothos wondered if Faramir had indeed chosen the tutor or if it had been Elphir in the end.
"And you thought," Éomer said, forcing any annoyance Amrothos would have felt in his stead about the indication behind those revelations out of his voice, "that you would give him a real reason for complaining by spiking his dishes with some of your mother's marigold oil to make him sick?"
"It was not from Mother's stock," Éomund pointed out.
"We are not allowed to take any of that," Hroðgar informed his father.
"Then where did you get the oil from?" Lothíriel interrupted.
"From the 'hālwendehūs'," Ælfwine replied.
"We asked," Éomund rushed to set that right.
"Politely," Hroðgar stressed.
Amrothos couldn't hold back a suspicious noise and was hit by a reprimanding glare from his brother-in-law.
"You asked Master Goðhold for marigold oil and he gave it to you?" Lothíriel probed further, obviously suspecting that there was more to the story.
Again the brothers did their silent communication bit.
"No," Éomund admitted after a short hesitation. "We asked his 'læceþegn', Ulferð."
"And what did you tell him that you needed the oil for?"
"He did not ask."
"Hmm." Thoughtfully Lothíriel ran her fingers over Forðred's hair and tidied his unruly locks. "Do you have any idea why he did not enquire further into your rather unusual request?"
By now at least Ælfwine and Éomund had an idea what their mother was aiming at and both looked uncomfortable.
"He did not ask because . . . it was us." Ælfwine sounded amazingly miserable.
"Your sons," Éomund amended, more in a whisper than his usual voice.
"Indeed, he did not ask any questions because you are the Princes of Rohan. And you knew that beforehand."
Lothíriel's tone was mild and flat. Amrothos remembered that kind of voice quite well from his own mother. The Princess of Dol Amroth had never reprimanded her youngest son, had never raised her voice. She had just stated his latest misdeed, not even sounding disappointed with him, just sad as if what had happened had been her fault. And her son had prayed that the ground would open up and swallow him. Right now the three Princes of Rohan looked as if they hoped for a similar clemency of nature, because their mother showed no mercy with them.
"You took advantage of your station and by doing so misused Ulferð. What do you think he felt like when he learnt what you did with the marigold oil? You tricked him into giving you something that is meant to do good and used it to make somebody ill. That is guileful."
Amrothos nearly snorted. Said the woman who once knocked out an entire band of Dunlending raiders by feeding them an overdose of some sort of purge?
"And it is also absolutely guileful to make your tutor sick just because he does not approve of Rohirric food," Éomer added in that special kind of fatherly tone that Amrothos recalled so very well from his own childhood. Had Éomer taken lessons from Imrahil?
But unlike when they had just been confronted by their mother and backed down as meekly as lambs, the boys were prepared to stand up to their father, probably afraid their hero might take them as being spineless otherwise.
"It was not only about the food," Ælfwine protested.
"It is about anything Rohirric." There was a passion in Éomund's voice that Amrothos hadn't known his slightly phlegmatic, if clever, nephew possessed. "Everything in Gondor is better. Nothing in Rohan is good enough."
"No even we." The eldest prince jabbed his forefinger in direction of his four siblings and at last against his chest. "Because we are . . ." he had to make use of the ten fingers of his hands, "only five eighths Dúnedain."
"That is less than all eighth," Hroðgar explained, just in case the mathematical abilities of the grown-ups weren't any longer what they once might have been.
"He says that the union with the House of Dol Amroth is for the House of Eorl a . . ." Ælfwine turned to his younger brother for help. Éomund deliberated on the unuttered question for a short moment.
"Appreciation," he said slowly. "That is the word Master Caevudor uses. And he says that we should be glad that we have more Dúnedain blood than Rohirric."
"What?" The disbelieving question slipped out of Amrothos mouth but nobody paid him attention.
"But we are not Dúnedain. We are Rohirrim," Ælfwine stated forcefully.
"Aye," Forðred piped up from his mother's lap.
"Aye," his sister echoed, tipping her head back to smile at her father.
Amrothos was glad he had positioned himself behind the threesome. His effort not to laugh out loud put him on the verge of tears. He admired his sister and her husband, who managed to keep perfectly straight faces. Not only at their youngest, who felt they had to shove in their oar, but mostly at the preposterous claims of the Gondorian tutor. To think that he had felt sorry for the man. He wondered how Caevudor estimated the value of his two daughters? Or Erchirion's children? After all, they were only half-Dúnedain, which was less than five eighths. Right now Amrothos felt very much tempted to seriously poison the man himself.
"Does the Gondorian nobility keep stud books of their lineage?" Éomer asked with mocking interest.
"Only the asses do," Amrothos replied dryly.
His brother-in-law gave a snort, but his attention focused back on his sons.
"Yes, you are Rohirrim," he said, "and Rohirrim do not deploy devious tactics against their adversaries. We face them squarely and in the open. Deceit is not our way. It is the refuge of cowards. And I do not want to believe that my sons are cowards." Icicles of disapproval hung on each word and, put to shame, the faces of the three boys turned red.
Hroðgar cast a wistful glance at his mother, probably reminiscing about the time when he had occupied that privileged and secure place on Lothíriel's lap where Forðred was lounging now, gaily unaffected. But Éomer still demanded their attention.
"You should have come to me or to your mother and told us about Caevudor's errors. No circumstances warrant what you did. You will go and apologise formally to your late tutor."
"But Father . . ." Ælfwine began to rebel against that instruction but received a nudge in his ribs from Éomund that stopped him. The second in line had obviously caught the term late tutor.
"May we explain why we put the marigold oil into his soup?" Éomund asked.
"Absolutely," his father retorted, keeping any eventually revealing emotion out of his voice.
"And while you are at the 'hālwendehūs' you will also apologise to Ulferð for taking advantage of his good faith," their mother added.
This time the threesome muttered their agreement without hesitation.
"Was that all?" Hroðgar asked, one of his feet already moving in the direction of the door.
Amazing, but since Amrothos knew the responsibility for the pack was back in the hands of their parents, he had began to find their antics quite amusing again.
"Was that all?" Éomer repeated his son's question, not sounding amused at all. "We have not even begun yet."
Hroðgar heaved a sigh. But his hopes of getting off that lightly had probably been remote anyway. His brothers slanted him rebuking glances.
"When we returned to Edoras today, your mother and I were aghast to find the great barn destroyed by flames and absolutely appalled when we learnt that it had been our sons who were responsible for that fire." Éomer paused, his eyes fixing theirs. "Who is going to explain how that could have happened?"
"We miscalculated the range of our projectile," Éomund began, but his father silenced him with a curt wave of his hand.
"I want you to start at the beginning and tell us what you three were doing out there at the crack of dawn, playing around with fire. Who gave you permission to leave the Hall before sunrise?"
"We did not think that we needed permission to get up early and go outside." Ælfwine had started his excuse with his usual self-confidence, but watching his father's reaction, his voice got quieter with every word. Finally he added in a fairly meek but also petulant tone, "We did not leave the boundaries of the city."
Éomer leant back in his chair and Ðéodwyn settled comfortably against his chest. "Answer me two questions," he requested, purposefully mild. "Have you ever been given the impression that you had not to ask if you wanted to go out in the dark? And would you have gone out before sunrise this morning without asking for permission – never mind for what reason – had your mother and I been in residence?"
All three kept silent.
"Well?" their father prompted.
Amrothos remembered plenty of situations like this one from his time as the usual suspect. It was as enjoyable as pulling a tooth.
"No," Éomund at last ground out.
"No . . . what?" Today was definitely not Éomer's most indulgent day.
"No, we would not have gone outside this morning had Mother and you been at home."
"Then why did you sneak out, knowing perfectly well that it is against the rules?"
"Because . . ." Ælfwine chewed on his lower lip before he admitted. "We wanted to try something out."
"Something you knew your mother and I would have forbidden." That was not phrased as a question.
Éomund swallowed heavily. "It was my fault," he burst out. "It was my idea to use a burning projectile. Like the beehives."
"Beehives?" Lothíriel asked alarmed, obviously having forebodings. "You are not saying that you hurled beehives around?"
"No," Hroðgar made haste to reassure her. "Uncle Amrothos would not give us permission." A thoughtful frown appeared on his forehead. "He did not say anything about burning balls of wool."
"And because I did not single out burning balls of wool as prohibited ammunition, you thought it to be acceptable to shoot them onto a thatched roof?" Amrothos interrupted despite having resolved at the beginning of the interrogation to keep his mouth shut. But Éomer didn't seem to mind. He quizzically raised his eyebrows.
"We did not do it on purpose," Hroðgar pointed out and received a nudge from Éomund. "What?"
"We miscalculated the range of the burning projectile." Éomund came back to his earlier approach of trying to explain the disaster. "It was much lighter than the bag of clay we hurled yesterday evening over the barn. That even went across the fortifications and landed on Fengel King's grave mound."
Once again on this day Lothíriel and Éomer appeared slightly bewildered.
"You bombarded the barrow field?" Éomer asked his brother-in-law.
"Not on purpose," Amrothos emphasised. "We miscalculated the range of the projectile." A glare from Éomer told him that, had the children not been in the room, he would have had plenty to respond to that quip.
"I do not understand why the bag flew that far but the ball of wool that did not even weigh half as much, dropped on the roof." Éomund looked thoroughly puzzled. "We did not change anything at the catapult. We did not move it and the counterweight was the same as the night before."
Amrothos groaned inwardly. Now that explained the whole mess. And he saw that Lothíriel and Éomer had also comprehended what had gone wrong. It earned him an accusing look from his sister. Her husband rubbed the nape at his neck.
"It appears," Éomer began, and though he addressed his sons, his eyes fixed on his brother-in-law, "that your uncle, in spite of all his physical ingenuity, failed to inform you that although you might not be able to see the air, it nevertheless is there. It is not only important to consider the weight of the projectile and the thrust by the catapult but also the drag caused by the air."
The boys looked blank for a moment. No doubt, Master Caevudor would have done better, had he taught exact science instead of counting the noble stock of his pupils.
"You can see the air and you can feel it," Lothíriel intervened. "When it is very cold and you breathe out, you can see the air just in front of you. And when it is windy, you can feel it on your skin and can watch it move your hair or the banners in front of the Hall. It is there, isn't it?"
The threesome nodded in unity.
"A heavy item cuts through the air more easily than a light item. Like a large knife cuts more easily through a loaf of bread than a small knife."
Tilting his head, Éomund regarded his mother thoughtfully. One could almost hear his mind spinning. "You mean that ball of wool did not fly as far as the bag of clay, because it was lighter?" he asked.
Lothíriel smiled affirmatively.
"The air slowed it down?" Ælfwine looked at his father for confirmation. "It could not get through the air because it was too small?"
"In principle, yes," Éomer corroborated that explanation.
Hroðgar scratched his nose. "Then, from now on, we will use only heavy things."
"You will not have the time to hurl anything anywhere," his father declared firmly. "You will be very busy in helping to put right the damage you have done."
The boys exchanged apprehensive glances.
"The remnants of the barn have to be cleared away and a new one has to be built. By the end of next month the first haymaking of this year's harvest season will start and by then we will need the barn for storage. The work has to be done in addition to the day-to-day work. That means it will be an extra burden for our people, a burden you have imposed upon them by your thoughtlessness. Until the new barn has been built, you will make a contribution to the efforts according to your best abilities."
"You want us to help with building the new barn?" Ælfwine asked, obviously considering if that might be just an extension – not necessarily an unpleasant prospect – of their building activities.
"No, I certainly do not want you involved in the construction work. Having to keep you out of mischief," Éomer waved their burgeoning protest quiet, "would only slow down the work. You will relieve the men of some of the everyday chores. Each morning at sunrise you will be down at the stables to help the stable hands to feed the horses and muck out the stalls. After the 'morgengrýtt' you will do your utmost to make good for all the lessons you missed while your mother and I were away."
"But I thought we do not have a tutor any more," Éomund blurted out. A short glance from his father quietened him.
"I will ask Gléowine to stand in as your tutor until a new one is found. As we all know, it will not be the first time."
The threesome did not look very happy. They certainly preferred caring for the horses to sitting virtuously over their books.
"In the afternoon," Éomer continued, "you will be back at the stables. There is plenty of saddlery and harnesses to clean and oil, not to mention the guards' armour. And if that does not keep you busy until dark, you will help the wives of the men who are working at the barn. Cleaning out a hen-coop has never done any harm."
There was a pause.
"Have we understood each other?"
"You are the Princes of Rohan. Your first duty is the welfare of your people. One day, one of you will be King. A king's power has only one warrant - to do everything to ease his people's lives. With your carelessness, your impulsiveness, you disregarded your duty and abused the power of your station. Instead of easing people's lives, you have burdened them and the fire you caused endangered their livelihoods and their lives. That was very ill done, very ill indeed and I hope I will never again have to learn that my sons have inflicted such harm on our people. I am disappointed."
The point had been reached at which the culprits could no longer meet their father's eyes. With slumped shoulders they studied their toecaps, probably wishing that the floor would reveal a deep, dark hole so that they could crawl into it. A single tear ran down Hroðgar's cheek and he shook his head to make his hair fall over the side of his face to conceal it. Their father's words in that cool, flat voice had apparently a worse effect on them than any shouting could have had.
Amrothos cast his sister a glance, wondering how she felt, having watched that lonely teardrop running on the face of the baby of the three. Her large eyes seemed even bigger than usual and shadowed as if she had to keep back her own tears. But she did not interfere in her husband's dealings with the boys. Éomer himself did look very slightly uneasy at the pitiable sight of them. Treating the weaker harshly was not the King of Rohan's cup of tea.
"You may go now," Éomer said, his voice a hint more forgiving. "Clean yourself up and get something to eat. Then you can go down to the stables and offer your help to care for the horses of the Royal Guard – that's after you have dropped by the 'hālwendehūs' and made your apologies to Caevudor and Ulferð."
He didn't have to tell them twice. They just nodded and made haste to leave the study. Before they closed the door again, one could hear Draca greeting them with a happy yap.
Amrothos slanted his brother-in-law a glance. "How long do you think that dispirited mood is going to last?"
Éomer grinned, peeling Ðéodwyn's chubby fingers gently from the hilt of the dagger he was carrying at his belt. "I think we are on the safe side for at least a sennight. After that, all bets are off. At this age they hardly do anything on purpose or out of spite. That's what makes them so dangerous."
"Perhaps you could have prolonged that period of time by imprinting your words on their bottoms."
He had meant those words only as a jest but he saw Lothíriel going very still and contemplating him for a moment, silently.
"You are an adult, Amrothos," she finally said in a low tone, probably because Forðred was still perched on her lap, but reproach was plainly underlining her voice, "a grown man of thirty-six years. You are superior to any child in means of strength of the body and experience in life. Having to establish your argument by noise or even by force shows nothing but that your reason is weak. It gives the dangerous message that might makes right, that it is permissible to hurt someone else, provided they are smaller and less powerful than you are. Adults have to exercise the power they hold over children carefully if they wish to act as good role models. A child who is treated with love and indulgence is taught a loving attitude to the surrounding world. A child who is treated with violence and harshness gets the opposite elementary attitude. Children are educated by what the grown-ups are and not by their words."
She looked down at her son, snuggled against her in a blissful state because he had his mother back. She touched a smooth cheek with her fingertip and was rewarded by a drowsy smile. She turned back to her brother.
"The boys know exactly what they did, that they disappointed their parents and let their people down. Believe me, they are feeling very bad right now and they will do everything that is within their means to help correct the damage. Corporal punishment is not going to do any good and as far as I remember, you have never been exposed to a spanking - not even after you knocked me down with Grandfather's shield."
That accusation came unexpectedly to Amrothos, making him speechless for the moment so that Éomer beat him to his chance of a reply. "You knocked your sister down? You knocked her unconscious?" The glare that hit the Prince was harbouring between patent disbelief and pure indignation.
Amrothos raised both hands in an appeasing gesture. "That was twenty-five years ago." One was well advised to be cautious in Éomer's presence when it came to Lothíriel – as he knew from past experience. "And it was an accident," he added, just to be on the safe side.
"I was unconscious indeed," Lothíriel said, her answer directed to both men, but she looked at her husband. "It is correct, however, that he did not do it on purpose. He sneaked into the armoury – which was strictly forbidden – and tried to lift our grandfather's parade shield from the wall mounting. It proved to be heavier than he had anticipated and it slipped from his grip and crashed on my head."
"It only happened because you used to follow me around all the time. You were not supposed to be there," Amrothos pointed out in his defence.
"And neither were you. Our grandfather wanted your tutor to give you a beating, but Father would not allow it. For a moment you had thought me dead and that gave you the scare of your life. Father held the view that that was all the punishment you needed, and indeed, for a sennight or two you treated me very agreeably and from then on went out of your way to err on the side of caution so that nothing would happen to me." She smiled at her brother in mock frustration. "That protectiveness sometimes got highly annoying and I have never been quite certain if you were worried ultimately about my well-being or yours."
Amrothos saw the corners of Éomer's mouth twitching and to conceal an inevitably emerging full grin, Rohan's King buried his lips in his daughter's silky hair, giving her a kiss on the back of her head before he sat her down and got up from his chair.
"Be grateful that I share your father's dislike of beating children. Otherwise, to serve justice, you would be about to get a proper licking right now." When Amrothos chuckled at his words, Éomer raised his brows offering caution, although there was a teasing glint in his eyes. "You'd better take that seriously, dear brother, because I do not see any reason why it should be acceptable to spank a child for punishment but not an adult."
"I would love to watch Éomer tan your backside." Lothíriel also got up from her chair and whispered into little Forðred's ear before she sat him on his feet. Reluctantly the boy toddled over to father and sister. Nose to nose the twins gazed at each other charily. After a couple of heartbeats Forðred raised his hand and petted his sister's cheek.
"Good boy," Éomer praised his son. The children had tipped their heads backwards to be able to look up at their father. "You two make peace and keep out of mischief for the rest of the day."
"Just for the rest of today?" Amrothos couldn't refrain from asking.
"For two-year-olds that is a long time span." To their delight Éomer ruffled the hair of both of the twins. "I will go back down to the stables to get a better idea about the situation and discuss it with the men. On my way, I think I drop by Gléowine. He has to fill in as the boy's tutor once again."
"Very well." Lothíriel put forth both her hands and the twins each took hold of one. "You two can come with me to see Mistress Ælfgyth. I am sure she has some goodies for you. And later you can accompany me to the 'hālwendehūs'." She smiled at the two men. "I am so glad to be back home. And I am looking forward to sleeping in my own comfortable bed tonight."
"So am I," her husband agreed in a low voice and with a suggestive grin, the innuendo so unambiguously ambiguous that it wasn't even an innuendo anymore.
Lothíriel rolled her eyes, but when she left the room, she made a point of adding an extra sway to her hips. It had a certain mock to it, considering that she held a toddler with each hand.
Amrothos observed with more dread than amusement that interplay and the unequivocal lusting glance that Rohan's King sent after his Queen.
"If I were you, I would not even think about it any more," he cautioned the other man.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Think about the possible consequences." The Prince shuddered involuntarily, imagining one more little blond hellion. "Too much of a risk!"
His brother-in-law chuckled and shrugged his shoulders. He was the very picture of a man who had accepted his fate. Worse! He was the very picture of a man who was perfectly content with his fate.
"I doubt it can get worse than it already is. After Ælfwine, Éomund and Hroðgar there is absolutely nothing left to surprise or scare Lothíriel and me. But I see your point." Éomer made a move to follow his wife and to attend to his own responsibilities. At the door he paused, slanting his brother-in-law a last glance over his shoulder.
"Ten years ago I was pressured to produce an heir for the House of Eorl because some people feared for Rohan's future. Now I have five of them so far, and I am afraid they might be very well the end of Rohan . . . as we know it."
I'm afraid Éomer was wrong. It can get worse. There will be three more. And King Elessar is going to make a grave mistake. He will insist upon inviting all eight children of his Rohirric brethren along their parents to the twenty-fifth anniversary of his coronation.
How can I put it? Once Minas Tirith withstood the forces of Sauron. But will it be able to survive a visit from the next generation of the House of Eorl?
One day I might give an answer to that question.
'ēalā' – OE term of greeting/hello
'welcumen bæc' – welcome back
'mīn lytle mūl' – my little mule
'Bema Þoncie Þē' – Bema be thanked
'mīn se lēofesta' – my dearest
'sunu(a)' – son(s)
'mīn dēorling' – my darling
'ælfetu' – swan
'hālwendehūs' – healing house/house of healing
'læceþegn' – healer assistant
Tolkien implies in his notes that the marriage between Éowyn und Faramir, the union between the House of Eorl and the House of the Stewards, means a diminution of Númenorian blood. The higher races of Men are becoming more like the middle ones. The inversion of that argument signifies that the House of Eorl would undergo an appreciation through the union between Éomer and Lothíriel. (. ? .) Éomer is right! That sounds indeed a lot like considerations you may find in a stud book.