Horse on high, noble, snow-white
Swan below, wheeling, sun-bright
The storm is passed, battle won
The evil stemmed, death undone
And echoes now in glen, wood and dell
The horse, Éomer,
And lover-swan, Lothíriel.
She knew the city. Too many days spent wandering the stone streets, a guard or brother in tow, taught her the ways of Minas Tirith. It was familiar to her, though in days of late the memories had grown less sharp and more vague. War - and madness - did that. Indeed, Denethor would never harm his niece, the child of his beloved wife's brother, but the Steward had grown melancholic and confused in the shadow of his lady's passing. And Imrahil kept his daughter at home, far from the Morgul Road and a bleak uncle. It was not until after Pelennor had been assailed by many thousands of Orcs, the Rohirrim and then the returned king's triumphant march to Mordor was she called for.
The letter arrived to find her dry-eyed and frantic, almost ripping at the wax seal. A thousand scenarios, each more horrifying than the next, danced across her mind. But this was no death notice and she sank back into a chair, overcome with relief. It was over. The War, the danger to her family. Gone. Her brothers' wives wept for joy and she felt as if a great, pressing weight had been removed from her shoulders. The sun had broken through the clouds. The storm had passed.
Within the parchment was not only news of the battle, the new king and the destroyed evil, but a summons to Minas Tirith. A new monarch meant a coronation and of course, the princess and her so-called sisters would attend.
They sailed up the Great River and she waited at the prow, black hair caught in the wind like a dark standard. With the sun on her face, she could not help but smile, feeling as if she could fly. With quite a bit of reluctance and willpower, she refused the urge to stretch out her arms and lean forward into the light wind. Was this what all had felt the moment the gates crashed, when the towers crumbled? Was this peace? Laughable as it may be, the princess hardly knew the meaning of the word. It would be difficult to adapt to life without war, without watching the horizon in fear.All her life had been spent in the shadow of collecting doom and now - nothing. Not emptiness, but absence. That weight had been pulled away, leaving her without purpose or thought. There was nothing waiting for her, at least, nothing that amounted to little more than needlework.
Her smiled faded. Was this the life peace brought? One of leisure and lethargy? What had she to anticipate now, with her father and brothers returning to patrol her gilded cage? In her heart, she shuddered. Marriage, most likely. There was time for courtship now, with the men returned, and surely her father had an idea or two already. Had that been his motive in calling her to Minas Tirith?
She shook her head. No. She thought too little of Imrahil. He was a good father, doting and true, albeit a nuisance to her freedom. With any luck, marriage was the farthest idea in his head.
Beneath the folds of her dress, Lothíriel crossed her fingers.
"With luck," she whispered.
She was not ready to trade her cage for a bride's leash.
This was not Minas Tirith. It was too bright, too merry, too overcome with joy and song. The city she remembered was somber, dark in the shadow of Morgul and heavy with doubt and woe. Now, brightly color banners and flags waved down at the streets, flapping the persisting wind. The gate square seemed to crawl with people, laughing, singing, celebrating the recent victory. The White Tree stared down from every flag and banner, a constant reminder of the king's return and the city's rebirth.
She could not help but laugh when she met her brothers at the dock. They were preoccupied then, busy greeting their wives and children. Amrothos was the first to embrace her and then Elphir and Erchirion. Their wives, Lithiane and Cianduilas, respectively looked on brightly. Not even the loss of their husbands' attentions could damper their moods.
"Come, Sister," Amrothos said, "Father is waiting in the gate square. He apologizes that he could not meet you with us, but had business to discuss with King Elessar and our cousin, Faramir."
Lothíriel nodded. "Hopefully nothing too serious. You know how he frets over such things."
Scooping his son, Elithir, into his arms, Elphir laughed. "Of course not. Who could be bothered with such now? It is too early to return to the trials of the everyday!"
Erchirion, the most serious of the brothers, turned away from his wife. "Trials, indeed. Father should be more worried about the villages destroyed by the Corsairs on their voyage to Pelennor, rather than whatever tosh he may be bothering the king with." Cianduilas placed a hand on his arm, her smile softened. Of all the wives, her head was the most level and was the slowest to anger. For a moment, Lothíriel bowed her head. She remembered the smoking wrecks the river villages had become.
"You know Father - and Elessar - are both doing all he can in aid," Amrothos countered, "Afterall, there are so many who need help, not only in our province, but across the country. Our allies in Rohan will face a hard winter, if I heard correctly. Many of their fields and farms were destroyed by Isengard - don't they deserve our aid as well?"
Elphir smirked. "You've taken quite a liking to our northern friends, haven't you?" he chuckled. "Say not, Brother, that their golden hair has bewitched you? Or have you forgotten their near-barbarism?"
"I would hardly call our saviors barbarians," Elchirion scoffed. "Had Rohan not come-," he trailed away, eyeing his wife steadily. "More blood would have stained the fields of Pelennor."
Lothíriel watched her brothers' exchange in earnest, as a spectator would a tennis match. She was eager for news of the country and the war, so she fell silent, if only for the sake of news. Amrothos continued on his debate, fending off Elphir's playful jabs and Erchirion careful retorts. In the end, Amrothos felt that the loyalty of Gondor, and Dol Amroth, lay to Rohan to repay their debt, while Elphir had sided with the suffering of their own province. Erchirion took neither side, settling instead to inject the conversation with intelligence whenever the topic became sour or far-fetched.
The princess exchanged a mirthful glance with Cianduilas, who merely rolled her eyes at the brothers' behavior. And so it was business as usual between the children of Dol Amroth, as now they sat horseback in the gate square.
She watched the crowd for her father, but spotted the standard first. The Ship and the Silver Swan, cutting through the bustling square like their famed ships through still water. And then the crowds parted to reveal a smiling Imrahil, sitting astride an inky charger. Strange, she thought. He looked older, more care-worn. There was a dullness in his eyes. But there was no time for observation.
Against all her etiquette training, Lothíriel vaulted from horseback to the stone street. Imrahil met her with a deep, tightening embrace. She pulled back, exhausted from smiling and saw new gray in her father's beard. He kissed her brow with a sigh and clasped her hand.
"Welcome, Daughter. I have missed you," he murmured, his low voice a rumble that shook her very heart. He studied her smiling features before nodding to his sons over her shoulder. "Come. If we hurry, you'll have ample time to prepare for the coronation later this afternoon. And perhaps, a meeting with the King?"
"The King?" she exclaimed, surprised. Behind her, Erchirion's smile turned grim. "Father, I am no one of importance, surely such a man has no time for the likes of me."
Imrahil laughed and patted her cheek. "Darling, you are too modest. Look how you've grown in my absence," he gestured towards her. It took a moment, but she understood her father meant her sudden growth spurt and a blush rose to her cheeks.
She was no Elf, neither in stature nor grace, and no songs would be sung of her enchanting beauty, but the few glances she stole in a mirror now and then said she had become fairer than she ever dreamed. Yet still, her hair was the common black of Gondor and nothing could be said for her tanned skin, an almost unsightly feature in every court. And her eyes, so gray and stony, so unremarkable, remained.
"Father, I'm positive the King would care not for my looks," she said slowly, her suspicions rising. "Why would he?"
He only laughed again and took his horse by the bridal, avoiding her eyes. "No reason, Daughter. None at all."
"Amrothos said you met with him," she continued, pressing the matter. "Why?"
Imrahil glanced around at the gate square. "Lothíriel this is not the place."
Behind her, Erchirion whispered something to Elphir. Even the playful Amrothos turned stony, glaring at his father.
Their father cracked slightly under the pressure of his daughter's dark gaze. "We merely discussed his situation, as it were."
She blinked, confused and unsatisfied. "Situtation?"
Again, Imrahil laughed but this time the sound was hollow. "Nothing of importance, really, just his status as king demands an heir, as soon as possible, and-."
She finished for him, her tone flat. "The king is unmarried."
He nodded. He would not tell her Elessar seemed reluctant to discuss the matter, that he had dodged nearly every attempt to bring up the already tender question of marriage. He would not mention how the king had nearly stormed away when Imrahil suggested Lothíriel, some sixty years the king's junior.
For a moment, for her, all seemed to go silent in the square of Minas Tirith. Her last reply was stony, meant to sting.
"I am no queen."