Are we human or are we dancer? – The Killers
"Where are they?" Erchirion groused. Amrothos had been charged to bring Lothíriel since their father had required the two eldest of his sons on some business in the Citadel before the reception, and they would not return to their townhouse beforehand. The eastern horizon lay covered in darkness, while the fading fingers of the sun would soon disappear behind Mindolluin's head. Bells tolled in their high towers, ringing in the third hour of the night. "I swear, Amrothos and Lothíriel are the most unseemly, anti-social—"
"Running late does not make one anti-social, Erchirion." Elphir's wife, Aranel, laughed and patted his arm. "Rude, perhaps. But, they are young and beautiful, so nobody will mind very much."
"I mind. I'm tired of waiting for them. It's humid out here and I'm thirsty—"
"Aranel is always making excuses for other people's bad behavior." Elphir smiled.
Erchirion made a sour face as his older brother and sister-in-law made love to each other with their eyes. He supposed, on some level, that sort of affection could be pleasing—just not displayed by his older brother.
Their father cleared his throat. "I am going inside to salvage the family honor," Imrahil said, amusement threading through his voice. He offered Aranel his arm. "May I?"
She accepted and they left Erchirion and Elphir waiting on the steps of Merethrond for the youngest two of the family, who were now beyond the acceptable limit of tardiness.
The great double doors of the Hall were wide open, and the sound of tinkling glass and laughter from the king's reception drifted out into the sticky air. They had already missed the light refreshments that were served to the guests, and soon the dancing would begin.
"Are you weary of waiting yet?" Erchirion asked after a few moments.
"Yes, let's go inside. It isn't as though they don't know the way in," Elphir replied. "And the midges are coming out."
They left the youngest of their family to fend for themselves and entered the Hall of Feasts. A few notes from the musicians warming up their instruments drifted toward them along with the low hum of the guests' conversations.
The Master of Ceremonies announced the princes as they appeared on the dais. A few heads in the crowd turned to look with polite curiosity before resuming their conversations. They descended the marble steps and then Elphir silently gripped Erchirion's shoulder before abandoning him in search of Aranel.
Erchirion walked on for a few steps around the perimeter of the hall to better scan the groups of ladies for a desirable dance partner, as he could see that most of his friends had taken that liberty already. He turned back to the dais again, however, when he spotted a familiar blue tunic out of the corner of his eye. Amrothos and a lady were soon announced.
To Erchirion's consternation, the woman was not Lothíriel. Rather, Lady Míreth, Lord Húrin's daughter, had her arm tucked lightly into his younger brother's. Now how had Amrothos managed that? And where in Mordor had Lothíriel gone?
Irritated, Erchirion headed straight for his younger brother and dispensed with all pleasantries and seemliness, and directly addressed Amrothos.
"Where did you leave Lothíriel?" he demanded, prodding his brother in the chest with his index finger.
Amrothos' eyebrows creased in irritation as he brushed the finger away. "Good evening to you, too," he retorted. "I don't know where Lothíriel is."
Erchirion folded his arms over his chest in an imperious fashion. "You were supposed to escort her tonight."
Míreth gingerly touched Amrothos's arm with her other hand, and some silent communication passed between them. He gave her an apologetic half-grin before she moved away. For a moment, they were distracted from their argument by the gentle sway of her hips. Erchirion blinked and looked away after Amrothos discreetly swatted him on the arm.
His attention returned to Amrothos, who gestured that he wished to move toward a nearby pillar away from the crowd.
"I would have brought Lothíriel, but then we had an argument. She told me that she would find a way to the banquet without my help."
Erchirion groaned. Those two had always argued like orcs. "And you gave in to her? Amrothos, you know what the city is like now that the gates are open to anyone. There are all kinds of riffraff walking the streets," Erchirion sputtered. He took a deep breath and forced himself to be fair. Lothíriel could be quite headstrong sometimes, and it wasn't as though Amrothos could knock some sense into their fully grown sister. "What argument?"
Amrothos shifted his weight just a bit, but enough to alert Erchirion to his unease. "We quarreled about tonight."
Erchirion arched his brow. "What about tonight?"
"Tell me," he said through gritted teeth, wondering just how he should know.
Amrothos shrugged. "About the dancing."
"We were supposed to compete tonight," he mumbled.
Erchirion cupped his forehead in his hand and closed his eyes. Competition didn't have anything to do with it, if he knew his brother and sister. "When you say compete, you mean the stupid way the two of you strut around the dance floor pretending that you're better dancers than the other couples who don't even know they're being judged?"
"We are better than the other dancers," Amrothos retorted. "We make a very good team, you have to admit. Look at those couples over there. They're completely lacking in form, not to mention spirit. I happen to know that Elphir is fudging his way through the steps." Amrothos grimaced. "And I hate to say it, but it looks like Faramir is mopping the floor with Lady Éowyn's feet."
Erchirion rolled his eyes in contempt for his arrogant brother and sister. "So, how did you upset Lothíriel?"
"Well…I, eh, decided that I wanted to escort Lady Míreth tonight."
Erchirion blinked. "A sudden decision?"
"Not exactly," Amrothos replied, failing to look nonchalant. "But I had to wait to find out if my persuasive powers were…persuasive."
"Lord Húrin let you escort his daughter?" Erchirion could hardly believe that the Keeper of the Keys would allow that, almost as little as he could believe that young Amrothos would wish to single out a woman in a serious manner.
Amrothos crossed his arms, mirroring Erchirion. "Why not?"
Erchirion held up his hands and shrugged. "It seems like a bit of a…statement, that's all."
"No, it doesn't."
"Dancing with Lady Míreth after her father escorts her to a formal reception does not make a statement. Bringing her yourself, and then dancing with her, makes a wee bit of a statement."
"I thought we were discussing Lothíriel," Amrothos muttered evasively, looking ruffled and peevish.
"We are," Erchirion agreed, allowing the subject to drop. For now. "So you aren't going to dance every set with your sister. That's completely understandable, especially now that you've both grown up. So what?"
"I know! And that's what I told her. She could come with us, but I made it clear that I'd be spending most of the evening with Lady Míreth—especially after all the trouble I went through. Well, Lotí didn't like the idea because she didn't want to be the 'hanger-on' having to follow Míreth and me around all night. And then she pouted about how she had looked forward to out-dancing the other couples."
"And then things sort of escalated." Amrothos threw his hands up. "I told her it was high time she grew up and started dancing with other men instead of hiding behind us all the time. Next thing I knew, she made a disparaging comment about Míreth's…er, qualities. Well, I told her with that kind of attitude I wouldn't dance with her at all."
Erchirion rolled his eyes. "Outstanding."
"And then since I'd ruined her night, she decided that I deserved public humiliation." Amrothos looked around, almost as though he expected her to pop out of somewhere and start shouting out his embarrassing childhood memories.
Despite the fact that his sister could be wandering around in some seedy part of town, Erchirion felt like laughing at the idiotic turn of events, and his brother's apprehension. "How is dear Lothíriel going to humiliate you?"
"We're going to compete against each other!" Amrothos cried. "She believes she will win hands down, and that I will have to bear the ignominy of being only the second greatest of her partners."
"I imagine you had something to say to that?"
"Well, I told her that she would be hard-pressed to find a better dancer to replace me! There's no mistaking that."
"And she took that pretty well?"
Amrothos grimaced. "I think not. Our sweet little sister told me to do some things that I'm sure are physically impossible…language she picked up from you, no doubt." He jabbed Erchirion in the arm.
"And that she would find her own escort tonight, and that she and Lord Twinkletoes, whomever he is, will dance circles around Míreth and me."
Erchirion shook his head in exasperation. "And you thought this was a good idea, letting her wander around picking out men to dance with and escort her around Minas Tirith?"
"Better than wringing her stubborn, sulky, little neck," Amrothos retorted. "What am I supposed to do? I can't dance with my sister for the rest of my life!" He slumped against the pillar. "Besides, we only live two circles away from Merethrond. Not exactly an epic distance, is it?"
"For the love of…how many circles do you think it would take for Lothíriel to get herself into mischief?" Erchirion cried, knowing his sister only too well. "Anyway, you didn't have to spring this on her at the last minute. You know how shy she can be…" Amrothos glared at him. "…with other people."
Amrothos stuck to his pillar, although Erchirion noticed his eyes roaming the room for Lady Míreth. "Look, had you finally talked Lord Húrin into letting you take his daughter out for the evening, you'd spring anything on anyone, at anytime or any place. Sister or no sister."
"Try explaining that to Father. Here he comes."
Sure enough, Prince Imrahil waded through the crowd toward his sons. Their new friend, King Éomer, followed close behind.
"Amrothos, where is your sister? I want to introduce her to Éomer. I thought you were to bring her?"
"I was…eh, but something came up. She should be here soon."
"And how will she be getting here?"
Fortunately, the Master of Ceremonies announced the arrival of her highness, the Princess of Dol Amroth, saving Amrothos from answering to his father.
Beside Erchirion, the King of Rohan sucked in his breath—and no wonder, he thought. Lothíriel had really outdone herself tonight. Her saffron dress caught the candlelight and sent it radiating back into the room in soft sparkles, while her hair hung around her shoulders like a black mantle with a blue sheen. Somehow between the beginning and end of the war, she had managed to grow up and fill out. Her skin glowed from all the time spent out of doors helping with the displaced civilians rather than sitting in her study in the castle reading stuffy old books Faramir sent her from time to time.
Yet, Lothiriel stood alone on the dais, looking regal but slightly lost, and for a moment, Erchirion felt annoyed with himself. Why should he care about the stupid competition between his brother and sister? They both deserved to be set down a peg. But he did pity her for not finding a partner like she'd hoped. He also felt a jolt of anger directed toward Amrothos for abandoning her to arrive at Merethrond unescorted and unprotected.
He took one last look at an interesting group of young women and squared his shoulders. Brotherly duty called and he knew his own mind.
Oblivious to her family, however, Lothíriel seemed to have spotted someone in the crowd, and gracefully descended the stair before he took so much as a step. The guests parted, and Erchirion heard himself gasp as her chosen, very tall, dance partner stepped forward to claim her hand. She whispered something to him, and he scanned the room, then whispered back when he spotted them by the pillar.
With a radiant smile and confident gait, Lothíriel walked arm in arm with her partner toward her waiting family.
"Amrothos, I would like to introduce my dance partner, Prince Legolas of the Woodland Realm." She smiled sweetly through Amrothos' scowl. The Elf stood by, ignorant of or benignly unconcerned with the battle between the youngest of Imrahil's children.
"How did you—" Amrothos pointed rudely. "How?"
His humor restored, Erchirion clapped a crestfallen Amrothos on the shoulder and whispered, "Sorry, mate. Maybe next time."
Many thanks to Deandra, for being so helpful! And to folks at the Garden for comments.