I was feeling cross and out of sorts, and I did not much care who knew it. I had spent a wonderful fortnight in the company of our Dol Amroth relatives, and now was returning to their city with them to winter there. And, then, the night before we left, my father and mother took me aside to talk. I needed to settle, they said. I needed to think of marriage and a family. I should consider the noblemen's sons here at home, but also take the opportunity of this visit to learn more of the young men in Gondor. I might have smiled and nodded, but paid little attention – this urging was not surprising – but then they particularly suggested a certain young man, the son of one of Father's advisers. And that had been the end of my pleasant expectations for this trip. Even if I would be gone for several months and not have to think further on the subject, it was sure to be awaiting my return.
In the hustle and bustle of our departure, no one seemed to notice my black mood, but once we were on the Great West Road, it did not take long for Alphros to challenge me. I did not wish to discuss the matter with him, so I pretended that I was merely downcast about not seeing my family for so long a time. His jaw tightened as he eyed me closely, but I suspected he did not believe me, though he did not ask further questions. After that, I made a greater effort to conceal my discontent, though it slipped through more often than I would have liked. We met with quite a bit of rain, and I grumbled far more than usual about the adverse conditions.
Minas Tirith was a welcome sight, as it gave us a chance to fully dry out for a couple of days before continuing on to Dol Amroth by boat. Though there was a supper and dance while we were there, I stubbornly refused to enjoy it, or to welcome the approaches of various young men. At length, I pleaded a headache and turned in early. It was petulant of me I am sure, to behave so, but I was utterly aggravated by everyone's determination that I hunt for a marriage partner. In none of the happiest marriages of my acquaintance had the couples actively been seeking someone. They had merely met and then feelings had flowered. I very much wished that to be the case with me as well.
Luckily, the weather cleared some before we began our journey down the Anduin, and the boat ride was not unpleasant. But, just as we pulled into the harbor at Dol Amroth, the dark clouds began to gather once more and we were scarcely inside the castle before the storm broke. The weather weighed on me even more heavily than my thoughts, and I almost wished I had never bothered to come all this way if I was not going to be able to enjoy myself.
I was still arranging my room, placing my belongings where I wanted them, when a knock came at my door. The maid assisting me opened it to reveal Alphros, who came immediately over to me.
"Come, we will go up to the solar. The sea should look magnificent from there, but we can remain snug and dry." Alphros tugged at my arm to draw me with him, and I readily fell in beside him.
The solar was in the very top of the castle, and on the third flight of stairs, I complained breathlessly, "One would think Dol Amroth's heir to the throne might provide more amenable weather for his guests so they do not have to exhaust themselves with all this climbing! Where are the bright, clear, sunny days you so proudly tout?"
He snickered, and retorted, "I shall be happy to provide them in abundance, when you have the good sense to visit during the summer months! And guests should not be so persnickety!"
I stopped to catch my breath at the top of the stairs, then hurried to follow him down the hall. He had not waited for me, and I had to rush in order to catch up. "The heir is also rude – running off and leaving his guests to perish with overexertion!"
He slanted a glance at me, grinning. "I thought people of the Mark were a hardier breed! I am sorely disappointed to learn otherwise!"
I scowled and cuffed his arm, but he just laughed as he led the way into the solar. He had been right – the sea was glorious in all its storminess. I think I actually preferred it when it was like this than when it was all smooth and calm in pleasant, sunny weather. "Beautiful!" I murmured, moving to the window.
In some ways, the gray skies mirrored in the gray water perfectly reflected my own inner turmoil. Why had Father had to bring up such an unpleasant subject just before I left? I feared it might color too much of my visit, impinging on my enjoyment of my home for the next several months.
"So, are you going to tell me what has had you so out of sorts for the entire journey here?" Alphros asked quietly, moving to stand beside me.
I stiffened at the remark; I had thought he had forgotten my ill humor, or accepted my excuse. "Nothing. I am just tired. The journey is always taxing," I lied. I wasn't good at lying, and certainly not to Alphros – he snorted in disbelief.
"You have made that journey numerous times over the past two decades, and never have I seen you so 'taxed' by it! Tell me it is none of my business, Tilleoth, but do not make up ridiculous tales and expect me to believe them."
I detected a note of hurt in his voice, which I could understand. The Rohirrim did not lie, and I had never lied to him. Of course he would be offended by such a thing now. "I…I am sorry," I apologized. "That was foolish of me." I gave a heavy sigh and then blurted out a cryptic answer. "Marriage!"
He raised an eyebrow, but did not look at me. "There is something you find objectionable about the marriage state?" he asked.
"No…not exactly." I sighed again, finally deciding to tell him all. He was my dearest friend; if I could not confide in him, then who? "Father…is urging me to enter into marriage, and wants me to consider the son of one of his advisers," I confessed. At the look of puzzlement from Alphros, I quickly added, "Oh, he would not push me into a union that I did not wish, with someone I did not love, but he wants to encourage me to…more actively look for a companion. Why must I consider anyone? Mother did not consider Father. Aunt Eowyn and Aunt Lothiriel did not consider their husbands. They developed affections, and when they learned the other felt similarly then they wed. Can I not do the same?"
I let out a growl and balled both hands into fists. "You are fortunate! At only twenty years, it will probably be some time yet before they start urging you to find a wife. But make no mistake, dear cousin, sooner or later they will start to hound you about it!"
"Actually," he said pensively, staring out at the blowing storm, "they have already begun. Nothing quite so particular as to suggest a specific lady, but they deem I should begin the process as soon as possible."
I plunked down in one of the chairs and scowled at his back. After a moment, I asked curiously, "Is there…someone who might interest you? Or are you feeling the strain of their nudgings as I am, with no one special who has caught your affection?"
Alphros shifted restlessly where he stood, and though he glanced quickly at me, he instantly turned his gaze back out over the sea. Finally, he mumbled, "The truth is, when I think of marriage, I think of…you."
My eyes went wide with astonishment at this pronouncement. Could he be serious? Alphros and I were just…just…just the very best of friends. Or so I had always thought. Now I realized how close we had become over time, and how much we had shared; how eager each of us was to visit the other; how many thoughtful things he did for me just to give me pleasure. Others brought shells for my collection as an afterthought, and if they remembered. Even then, they usually brought common shells that were easily obtained. But Alphros would search for weeks, sometimes even years, to find undamaged versions of rare or delicate shells, and did it simply to please me.
How long had he harbored feelings for me that went beyond friendship? And, more importantly, did I feel similarly toward him? I had never considered that question, and I knew there were arguments against such a relationship. He was younger than me by a few years, and my cousin as well – though I suppose the latter was not entirely correct; we were not in fact related by blood. And he lived in Dol Amroth, far from my family and homeland.
I was silent so long, lost in my musings, that he interpreted my lack of response as reticence. "You do not need to… I understand if you do not feel the same, Tilleoth. I knew we had never spoken of such things, but I had to find out whether or not it was…possible. I will say no more on this. Forget that I spoke."
He started to brush past me and leave, but I could not let him go like this. "Wait!" I exclaimed, surging up from my seat to catch his arm. "We must talk!"
"Tilleoth, it is fine – you do not need to apologize for not sharing my feelings," he said with a sigh. He did not look at me, and again tried to move toward the door, but I would not release his arm.
"No! You must hear me out!" I insisted. "You have had your say, now let me have mine."
He had stopped, and he was listening, though he would not meet my gaze. Now that I had his attention, I was not sure what to actually say. Alphros? Marry him? But the more I thought about it, the less strange it seemed. In fact, it seemed the most perfectly obvious thing imaginable. I cocked my head with surprise as I looked at him. How had I never noticed how very special he made me feel? Why had it never occurred to me that when he was in the room I lost interest in all else. I had always attributed that to a close friendship, but had it become something much more without my even being aware of a change?
"I…I do love you," I murmured with wonder. "I do not know when or how it came to be, but it is so all the same."
His eyes shot up and our gazes locked on one another. For several long moments we stood thus, merely staring at each other, and then slowly, tentatively, he leaned toward me. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to meet him part-way.
Boys and young men have snuck kisses from me a time or two in my life, so this was not my first kiss ever, but it was the first one I truly desired. I tolerated the others, because it was a new and exciting thing, but I had no special feelings for the fellow and made no effort to encourage a repeat from any of them.
Alphros' kiss awakened a need in me that I had never felt before, a yearning for…more, though I was not certain what precisely more I desired. Something deep inside whispered that it had something to do with love and marriage and family, and a jolt of excitement shot through me as I tasted his lips. The kiss did not last long, as both of us were rather hesitant and uncertain about this change in our relationship.
We paused, breathing rapidly, self-consciously, but something had stirred within us and we could not resist a second kiss. A kiss that promised of things to come in our shared future. Our arms went around each other, drawing close into an intimate embrace, and only the need for air could make us relinquish such sweet refreshment.
Alphros rested his forehead against mine after the second kiss, and we again stood in silence, until at length he murmured, "Are you certain? Are you very certain this is what you want? It is new and unexpected, but is it truly what you feel?"
Unable to find my voice, I merely nodded. I turned my head to rest it against his shoulder, tucked up under his chin. After what seemed an eternity, I explained, "I never realized all that I felt until you made me think on it. Perhaps that is why I have so resented all efforts to encourage me to consider others. My heart knew what my head had not yet learned."
We spent the rest of the day in the solar, talking and exploring this new aspect of our association. We never consciously decided to conceal our feelings from the rest of the family, but somehow that is what we both ended up doing when at last we went down to supper. In view of others, we behaved toward each other as we always had, but we were eager for stolen moments alone.
Surprisingly, the weather cleared that evening. I could not truly attribute it to my improved mood, but it was amusingly coincidental, nonetheless. We spent the entire next day together, walking about Dol Amroth so I could reacquaint myself with my favorite haunts.
The following day, however, I arose with an earnest desire to do something special for Alphros. The respite from the storm was short-lived, as the rain had returned during the night, slashing at the windows. The prospect of a dreary day spent indoors seemed the perfect opportunity to act. I was up and moving early, and did not see Alphros until nearly midday when I found him in the library looking very ill-tempered.
He was slouched in a chair and glanced up as I entered. With a scowl, he inquired testily, "Where have you been all morning? I looked everywhere for you!"
Grinning, I primly sat down on the couch and retorted, "Apparently not!"
His scowl deepened. "Yes, you are right – I did not go down to the wharf to see if you were fishing in the driving rain!" He knew full well that even as much as I loved the seashore, I hated fishing, but two could play this game.
"Well, if you are going to be so cross with me, then I suppose I will not share after all…"
I looked away from him and moved toward the library doors, but just as I had expected, he could not stand to not know where I had been and what I meant. "Share what? Where have you been?" His tone was somewhat less cross now, and more little-boy petulant.
Flashing a teasing look over my shoulder, I murmured seductively, "Why not come and find out?" I continued on toward the door, and though he hesitated, not wanting to let me win, I soon heard his footsteps following me.
In the hall, I scooped up the basket I had left there and then began to run. More hesitation, but then I heard him break into a jog to keep up. "Tilleoth! What are you doing?" He pounded up the stairs after me, gaining ground as I struggled with skirt and basket.
He caught me halfway up the second flight, leading to the third floor, and grabbed me by the elbow to stop me. We both stood there breathlessly eyeing one another, his eyes narrowed questioningly and mine trying to appear innocent. After a few moments, as we caught our breath, he grudgingly asked, "Are we headed to the solar?"
With a smirk, I told him, "That is where I am going! I have no idea what your intentions are!"
Suddenly stepping in so close to me that what breath I had recovered lodged in my throat, he replied quietly, "My intention is to be wherever you are, just as often as I possibly can be!"
Recovering my composure, I smiled less teasingly and caught his hand. "Then I suppose you must come to the solar!"
Together we scrambled up the remaining stairs and walked the short distance to the solar entrance. At the door, he looked at me with raised eyebrow. "Now what?"
I released his hand as I moved into the room, dropping the basket on one of the tables. Without looking at him, I opened it and began to lay out its contents. Once the lid had been lifted, the bounty of the basket could no longer be contained, and the scent of apple tart wafted around the room. Alphros' eyes went round and he hastened to join me. "Apple tarts! This is where you were, making apple tarts?"
Already he was biting into a still warm tart and I smiled lovingly at him. "Yes, this is where I was all morning. I have heard there is someone at Dol Amroth who especially likes my apple tarts and thought to surprise him. Instead, I was the one surprised with his cross, disagreeable behavior toward me!"
He swallowed a couple more bites of tart before wiping his fingers on a napkin and turning to me. Drawing me into his arms, he sheepishly apologized, "I am sorry, my love! I was only cross and disagreeable because I wanted to be with you, and you were not to be found. And much as I am grateful for this sweet treat you have prepared for me, I still was sorry to miss your company the entire morning." He drew me into a kiss that quickly earned my forgiveness.
As we parted, I licked my lips thoughtfully as he watched with narrowed eyes. "Mmmm, those tarts are wonderful! I believe I shall have one also!"
He snickered as he turned back to the table and assured, "Only because it is you am I willing to share!"
I elbowed him. "Only because you fear I will never make more for you if you do not share, are you willing to do so!" He shrugged acknowledgement and bit into another tart with relish.
I was sure we were spoiling our appetite for dinner, but I knew neither of us minded. Before I began this venture, I had left word that Alphros and I would not be at the midday meal so we need not hurry back downstairs. Once the tarts were devoured, we snuggled on the couch, content to hold one another as we looked out at the stormy weather. It occurred to me that if it meant I might remain in his arms, I did not mind at all if the climate continued inhospitable for the duration of my visit. The notion brought a smile to my lips. Every other visit, I would have been disappointed to be so housebound, but now it was utterly inconsequential.
"You need to learn to swim," Alphros suddenly murmured, almost to himself more than to me.
Startled by his remark, I glanced up at him and asked rather sarcastically, "Right this moment?"
His arms tightened around me and he smiled, but then his expression sobered again. "No, but as soon as warmer weather permits. I know you do not like to swim, especially in the sea, but if you are to live here it is essential. Until now, I always worried when we would go sailing and you did not know how, but I persuaded myself that you were only visiting and it would not matter. But now…I do not want to risk losing you, and knowing how to swim could well prevent that. We live at the water's edge and it is too dangerous not knowing."
I burrowed comfortably into his shoulder, too content to argue. "As you wish," I acquiesced. Likely he was right, anyway. I had always intended to learn, but somehow managed to avoid it. If I was to be a bride of Dol Amroth, certainly it was essential.
In our time alone together, we kissed and we talked of the future, but we did not particularly consider what we needed to do to officially set ourselves on this course. I should have known we were only fooling ourselves that we had kept our feelings secret from everyone else.
At supper that night, Imrahil was unusually quiet during the course of the meal, but as we concluded and all prepared to depart, he spoke at last. "Alphros, would you join your father and I in my study, please." He glanced at me and added, "As this concerns you, Tilleoth, you should probably join us as well." I was sure Alphros' mother and sister were sneaking peeks at us, though trying not to be obvious about it.
Alphros and I shot each other concerned looks, but voiced our consent to this request. Rising, we followed Imrahil down the hall. It was clear to me that Alphros was wondering as frantically as I was what this might be about. The thought occurred to me that perhaps it pertained to our new-found affection for one another, but I did not think we had been overtly obvious about that. Surely we had seemed no friendlier toward one another than usual. But, even so, some part of me wondered if they had in fact noticed, and were about to voice some disapproval or objection to the match. After all, Alphros was heir to Dol Amroth's throne, and I was…just a pretender to the house of Eorl. My spirits fell further the nearer we came to Imrahil's study.
Once inside, Imrahil gestured for us to be seated on the couch and we sat rigidly side by side, careful to leave a reasonable distance between us. The Prince poured wine for all of us, though I took mine more to have something to occupy my hands.
Taking a seat behind his desk, he sipped thoughtfully at his own wine for several moments, and Elphir also remained silent. I was painfully aware of the tension in Alphros; it radiated off him, though I did not know if his father and grandfather were so conscious of it as I was.
At length, Imrahil set down his wine glass and fixed Alphros with a stern look. "As you well know, there are protocols that must be observed, and that is especially true for the heir to the throne. We do not have the freedom that others might in how we conduct ourselves, and that is even more particularly so when we are dealing with foreign relations. Any feelings you may have for a young lady" – his eyes flicked to me and then back to Alphros – "are fine and personal, but when the young lady is the daughter of Rohan's king, one must behave circumspectly. I do not doubt that the two of you are behaving in an honorable manner, but despite our connections with Rohan, propriety must be observed!"
My brow knit at these words, and I heard Alphros let out a sigh that almost seemed one of relief. Was Imrahil saying…
"What must I do, Grandfather?" Alphros asked penitently, and I snuck a look at him from the corner of my eye.
"You must formally ask Theodred King for permission to court his daughter, with intent to marry – if that is indeed your intention. I presume this is not some meaningless flirtation without serious motive for either of you!" Imrahil's mouth twitched with barely concealed humor, though he managed to remain serious. Elphir's eyes were also alight with humor, and I found myself letting go of my held breath.
"May I send word by messenger, or must I go in person?" Alphros questioned earnestly, surprising me. Then I realized I should not wonder at it – he had grown up knowing his responsibility and duty, and he had never hesitated to act in accordance with that. Even in this, so personal a matter to us, he wished to be circumspect and proper.
Imrahil's eyes fell on me and he smiled at last. "I believe a letter will suffice. I know Theodred thinks very highly of you. I cannot foresee that he will have any objections to the match. And, for the record, you have my blessing upon you." Elphir now smiled his concurrence with this and Alphros reached for my hand.
"My apologies for not speaking of our changed situation, or acting of my own accord," Alphros told them. "It was all so new and unexpected that we forgot ourselves. Of course I will contact Theodred King at once and obtain his permission. Thank you, Grandfather; Father."
They saluted us with a toast, and wine had never tasted sweeter. Without hesitation, the house of Dol Amroth had accepted me as Alphros' future bride. Even knowing I would someday stand at his side when he ruled had not given rise to any concerns about my heritage.
Alcathir and Alphrin joined us then and we quietly talked and celebrated our unofficial betrothal. When finally we called it a night, Alphros walked me to my room and kissed me goodnight at the door.
Alone in my room, I leaned against the door, listening to his footsteps growing fainter in the hall. It had been a very long day, and I was weary, but it was a good tiredness, and I was still too excited by all the recent wondrous events to be ready for sleep. Little had I known, on that long ride from the Mark, that I was riding to my future home. I had made that journey numerous times before, giving little thought to it, but now I saw that all those earlier trips had helped lead to this day.
Now as I gaze in my mirror, I realize something else. Like my mother, I will be marrying into a ruling family. She had become a queen; I would be Princess of Dol Amroth one day, when Alphros took his father's place. And, just like mother, I had never anticipated such a thing. I did not seek to love the heir to such a family, it had simply happened without my notice. Perhaps my paradox was ended. Being the adopted daughter of Rohan's king may or may not have made me part of the highest noble class, but marrying a future Prince of Dol Amroth certainly did. There was no longer any question as to where I fit in.
I smiled to myself, not even sure now why I had worried so much about it anyway. Life seemed to have a way of working out for the best, no matter what we did to interfere.
8/23/09 – 9/19/09
par·a·dox - 3 : one (as a person, situation, or action) having seemingly contradictory qualities or phases
3019 - Theodred-41, Retaleoth-31, Eomer-28, Eowyn-24, Lothiriel-20, Tilleoth-5
17 IV - Elfwine-16, Alphros-20, Tilleoth-23, Alphrin-18
A/N: "Sandflower" shells are what is commonly known in America as sand dollars, but I didn't think that name was appropriate to Middle-earth, so WendWriter helped me come up with an alternate name for them.
per Thain's book, The name Alphros appears to contain the word alph meaning "swan" - the symbol of Dol Amroth - and ros meaning "foam." So I have named his sister Alphrin, which would be "swan queen".