"Aunty Gil, Aunty Gil, Lothy is upside down again. And she's not got her drawers on." The little girl came running up to Gilraen, her childish face full of the self-righteousness of a child who knows that for once she is not going to be the one in trouble. Gilraen sighed, and dusted the flour from her arms onto her capacious apron. Her oldest child was certainly a trial to her at times. She followed Laerethril as she bustled officiously down the road to the edge of the wood. Lothraen was soon in sight, swinging from a smooth branch some ten feet above the ground. The right way up at least, thought Gilraen in relief. But as she watched, the child hauled her chin up to the branch by the strength of her arms alone, and swinging her legs underneath – (and indeed, Gilraen noted, she was not wearing drawers), managed to roll her body under the branch and turn so she ended up on top of it, her weight on her arms, her legs dangling.
Gilraen was impressed at her daughter's agility and strength, but to compliment her would only encourage her, so all she said was "Lothraen!" in a sharp voice. She felt a pang of guilt, as her daughter's laughing face changed expression to one of dismay, and she circled forward round the branch, and dropped lightly to the ground.
The child scowled at her cousin. "You told on me," she said accusingly, "You're an oinky pig, Larry, and the Dark Lord is going to roast you and eat you for dinner."
Laerethril's eyes filled with the tears that came so easily to her. "Aunty Gil, she called me an oinky p…i…g," she wailed.
Gilraen sighed. Most of all she wanted to give her niece a slap for being a tell-tale, and creating trouble between her and her daughter, but all she said was, "You know you're not one, Larry. Don't cry. Don't give her the satisfaction." Laerethril continued to snivel, wiping her nose on her grubby sleeve, so Gilraen added craftily, "Your mother was baking this afternoon too. She might have something nice for you if you run." This worked, and the miserable Larry trotted off, still sniffing.
She turned to confront her daughter. Lothraen scowled at her. She looked so like her father, Gilraen thought. It gave her a pang to see his eyes looking at her out of the girlish face, but punishment was required, and to mete it out, she had to remain stern.
"What have I told you Lothraen about these acrobatics?"
"That they're unladylike, and not fitting for a daughter of Arathorn, mother," said the girl, in a sing-song tone not quite insolent enough to merit a slap on the spot. If only Arathorn were still alive, thought Gilraen, sighing inwardly. He would know what to do with this recalcitrant girl.
"And suppose the boys had been watching you swing upside down like that. Quite bare."
Lothraen's scowl deepened. "If you let me wear trews, it wouldn't matter."
"I told you, girls wear skirts, boys wear trews."
"Just because. That's how it is. There's no point arguing. I told you if I caught you upside down again I would beat you, and now I shall have to. Come here."
"I shan't. You'll have to catch me first." And with that, her disobedient daughter whisked away into the woods, and was out of sight within seconds.
Gilraen sighed aloud. She'd have to get the men out to hunt for her again. Even the woods so close to the Angle contained wolves and boars. There might be bandits too, and at ten her daughter was old enough to be of interest to a certain dishonourable kind of man. Not to mention goblins and trolls. She shuddered at the thought of her tender daughter in the hands of such monsters and went to get her brother-in-law.
Lothraen slipped deeper into the woods, hating her mother, and the whole world. She picked up a large stick, and began to strike the nettles and brambles that lined the path in this part of the woods, before she realised that all she was achieving was to make it very easy for the men to track her. She doubled back on herself for a few hundred yards, and slipped onto a deer path, careful to bend no branchlets, nor to break a twig underfoot.
As usual when she was in this mood, she resorted to the stories she told in her head: "Elladan crept along the path, almost invisible in his tunic of green and brown, his hair bound up in a warrior's plaits." She wished there was time to braid her hair in the style of the elven warriors. The men of the Angle rarely had enough hair to bother with such frippery, and for once she was glad that she had a mop of highly braidable
black hair, although she had begged her mother to cut it many times. "He held his trusty blade at the ready." She pulled out the little kitchen knife that she had secreted inside her sash, the blade carefully wrapped in larded canvas. She had once heard her uncle say that swords should be kept oiled, and since she had no sword oil, she had to make do with kitchen ingredients the best she could. "So quiet was his footfall that the orcs in front had no idea of his presence." She had never seen an orc, and had a vague idea that they were a sort of really ugly person. It was said that Larry's big brother, who was sixteen, had killed one, but he would not tell her of it, but went quiet and pale and told her to go and sew with the women if she asked him. She was certainly sure that they were very very bad. Of course her little kitchen knife would be no good against such a foe. She would need a spear. Just as soon as she was deep enough in the wood, she would make one.
Gilraen sat in her sister Gilethril's kitchen, and watched her stir a great black pot of stew that hung in the fireplace, and complained, "I don't know what to do with her. She's more boy than girl. And so envious of Aragorn, you wouldn't believe."
"Well, I've always said you should beat it out of her. You've been too gentle." Gilethril pressed a hand to her back. Her belly was big with her seventh child, and Gilraen knew that with this one had come a fierce back-ache that shot pains into her thighs if she stood for too long.
"Is your back playing up again Gilly? You sit down. Let me finish dinner." Her sister sank gratefully onto one of the shabby kitchen chairs, arching her back to try and ease the pain. She continued, "I think its too late now. Maybe it would have been better if Aragorn were here too. I thought I was doing it for the best when Elrond offered to take him into his own household. He couldn't ask for a better education. And of course his father was there as a boy. And his father before him. I knew it was what Arathorn would have wanted. And of course Aragorn will be chieftain in due course."
"Yes, Aragorn will, not Lothraen. Lothraen will marry one of the Dunedain and have a pack of children. She will soon forget all this acrobat nonsense. "
Gilraen remembered the day the group of players had come to the Angle, golden skinned, sly dark eyes aslant in their flat but beautiful faces, their parti-coloured costumes too bright, and too tight, too revealing. Gilraen thought of the way the mens' tights had clung to their… she couldn't bring herself to name the part, even in her head. Shameless! She wasn't sure if she was castigating herself or the acrobats. They had arrived in a swarm of excited children, and the performance had begun at once. There were jugglers and tumblers, and a woman who bent her body to the unlikeliest extent, wearing the smallest amount of clothing. The menfolk had been entranced, and more than one bachelor had tried to lure her into the quiet dark of the fields later in the evening.
But it was the tumblers who had enchanted Lothy. Her mouth had not shut from the beginning of their performance to the end, unless it was to shriek with terror and excitement as one tossed another high into the air, where he somersaulted three times before he landed. The next day she had followed the tumblers round like a lamb after its ewe, begging them to teach her. And so her mother had found her, the back of her skirt drawn between her legs and into tucked into the front of her belt for modesty, cartwheeling and throwing herself about like a complete hooligan, with the help of the bendy woman and one of the tumblers.
"I'm not sure whether the acrobat thing is better or worse than the warrior one. It would have been better if Father* hadn't humoured her, and taught her swordplay as if she had been a boy," said Gilraen.
"He thought he shouldn't thwart her nature. Not that I agreed. What are you making?" She pickled up her sister's sewing from the scrubbed deal table.
Gilraen sighed, "A pair of canvas drawers for her to wear under her skirts. She's asked me for trews for ages. I suppose this is a compromise. Shall I check this bread is done?" At her sister's nod, she took a loaf of bread from the niche in the ingle, and knocked it expertly on the bottom to check if it was cooked.
"It's a shame that you didn't have a chance to have more babies. If you'd been busier, you would have had less time to fret about one naughty girl."
Gilraen knew her bossy sister was going to raise the subject of marrying again, and decided to head her off with a well-worn diversion, "You know, it took Aragorn ages to settle in Rivendell. Two was too young for me to leave him." She could picture the little boy's stunned face vividly, as he watched his mother ride away from him for the first time in his life. When she had returned, six months later, she found that he had reverted to wetting his bed again, to the consternation of the Elves. They had even changed his name, calling him Estel. "I wish Elrond would have taken Lothy too, then I could have stayed with him."
"Did you ever ask him?"
"No, I never screwed up the courage to. He is so stern. My knees shake whenever I am in his presence. I suppose its because he is the eldest son of the eldest son right back to Elrond's brother."
"You obviously paid more attention than I did in our studies. Anyway, Father said that Dinenon is most closely related to Elrond, because he inherits that blood on both his mother's and father's side. You'll want to stay for dinner, won't you? There's no point you cooking for one. There's plenty."
In the woods, Lothy's stomach was beginning to grumble. She was a Ranger now, travelling for miles, a seasoned warrior, guarding the borders of far countries from fell creatures. Grandfather had said that when they lived in the Wild for weeks on end, they took what food they could from the land, roots, berries, rabbits, pigeons, deer. She had gathered some wild parsnip and garlic roots, and knotted up the front of her skirt to carry them. Somehow they didn't seem very appetising, and with her new spear – a stick whittled to a point, she determined to get some meat. Soon she came upon deer slot.
Gilraen sat alone in the dark, lit only by the embers of the fire, and waited. Her house was so quiet. Even the occasional comfortable rustle from the dying fire was little comfort. She had thought that the men would be back by now, that Lothraen would not have got far before they caught up with her.
There was a great noise outside, of shouts, and stamping feet, and barking dogs. She rushed to the door. Seven men of the Dunedain were there – mostly the older ones, who stayed home these days and farmed. And oh joy! On Dirhael's shoulders sat Lothraen. In the fitful light of the torches Gilraen could see that she was bloodied up to her elbows. Her dress was stained and torn. Gilraen's heart leapt with mingled joy and fear, as her mother's imagination immediately put the worst construction on her appearance.
"Oh Lothy! Oh Lothy!" was all she could utter for the lump of tears stuck in her throat.
Lothraen slid down her grandfather's back to the ground, heedless of how her dress rose up her thighs. She threw herself into her mother's arms and burst into tears crying, "Mummy!" She hadn't called her mother by this childhood name for at least two years. Gilraen hugged the wiry little body hard. After some sniffling Lothraen said into her mother's shoulder "I killed a deer." Gilraen couldn't quite believe she'd heard this right, and looked over at the men. Sure enough, they were carrying a young hind. Its legs had been lashed to a rough pole so two men could share the weight.
"She did too, "said Dirhael, with pride.
"However did you manage that?"
"With my spear."
"I made a spear, and I stalked the deer like Dinenon taught me, and I stabbed it right in the neck like a Ranger would've." Lothraen took on a fierce expression, which soon crumpled again. "Oh Mummy, I wasn't strong enough. It didn't die, so I had to bash it with a stick until it was dead. And it looked at me so awfully, like it blamed me or something, and it poohed everywhere, and I was sick on my dress."
"I can't believe that you killed a deer." As a farmer's wife, she had often had to ring the neck of a chicken, and she was no stranger to the nasty business of drawing poultry and rabbits.
"Nor I," laughed Dirhael, "She must be quite a little tracker, and quiet on her feet as an Elf."
Gilraen pursed her lips and managed not to tell her father what she thought of his encouragement of these unsuitable pursuits. "I thank you for bringing her home. You must all have missed your dinners. Let me get you something." They trooped in, the hounds gambolling at their heels.
"We wouldn't say no," said Aglardir, to Gilraen's annoyance. She'd hoped he at least would go home. She was certain that he had his eye on the widow of the old chieftain, and the mother of the new one.
There was bread and cheese she had made herself in the larder, and she also brought out a flagon of the last autumn's cider, and busied herself with plates and goblets. As the men's faces flushed a little from the drink, and their voices rose, she took Lothraen's hand, and drew her up the stairs to bed.
* Dirhael, father of Gilraen.
OC names (with thanks to Hiswelókë and .net)
Gilethril – Star listener – Gilraen's sister, Aunty Gil
Laerethril – Song listener – Gilethril's daughter, Larry
Lothraen – Enlaced with flowers – Gilraen's daughter, Lothy
Dinenon – Thoughtful one – one of the boys
Aglardir – Brilliant Man – one of the men