Dol Amroth TA 3021
As a flower seeks the sun, she turned immediately that Éomer entered the room, unconsciously stretching out her hand, having sensed her husband's presence long before she could see him. Imrahil thought he had never seen his daughter look so lovely. A week of marriage had given depth to her beauty. Éomer twined his fingers with hers, and drew her towards him possessively. He slipped his other arm around her, rubbing his hand up and down her back and whispered in her ear. As one they headed for the door; probably the last that would be seen of the bridal couple that night.
Imrahil sighed, with both contentment and memory. Contentment: because he had once despaired of ever seeing Lothíriel floating on air, gliding across the room to greet a beloved husband. Memory: because it had been on the road to the Black Gates, a place where any remaining hope had been sucked from him by the all devouring gluttony of evil, that the thought had last come to him – fluttering on the wings of reminiscences of his late wife.
And seeing his daughter now, all her attention focused on Éomer, memories of his wife grabbed his mind once more. Their years together had been full of joy. She had been so alive in the early days, with sparkling eyes and her hair an ebony cloak that framed her pale cheeks and fell streaming down her back… Imrahil paused in his thought, realising that he was not the only one enjoying the interaction between the newlyweds. Aragorn had arrested his goblet on the way to his mouth, staring over the top of it towards the door. His pensive expression showed that he too had slipped into the midst of some memory. The goblet landed back down on the table.
The wine ignored for the moment, Aragorn smiled. "I've never noticed before how much Lothíriel has the look of her mother. Different eyes, but there is something in the way she moves. And her hair is just as striking."
Elphir audibly gasped. Pushing away his own goblet, he leant towards Aragorn. "You knew my mother?"
"He met her before me," Imrahil answered sharply. For some reason he had never mentioned it. There always seemed to be other things to talk about: first the war… and then managing the peace…
Aragorn chuckled at Imrahil's slightly aggrieved tone, and turned to Elphir. "But I never saw your parents together, which is a shame. I would have liked to have been there to witness the end of the story."
"Story?" Elphir looked inquiringly between his father and Aragorn. "I realised you had met before, but is there a significance that has escaped me?"
Imrahil looked sideways at his son, flashing him a wry smile. "You could say it was a noteworthy time in my life." For him and others.
Aragorn laughed. "Your father was a proud young man who resented serving under a travelling soldier, but even more, objected to Gondor's Steward telling him to pay court to a beautiful woman."
"Serving? You fought together?" Elphir immediately forgot his mother and picked up on the scent of battle. "Why haven't I heard of this?"
Because it had been forgotten as the Dark Lord drew ever closer, and when Imrahil had met Isuidur's Heir on the Pelennor, a slight embarrassment of his long ago hostility to the man who turned out to be Gondor's lost king, had kept him silent. He straightened, knowing Aragorn had attached no importance to his youthful behaviour. "It was during the attack on Umbar; Ecthelion requested the loan of two of our ships."
Elphir reached for the wine jug and topped up his father's goblet. "It's just the evening for a story." He reached over to Aragorn's cup, but the king put his hand over it and stood up. Immediately there was a shuffle around them as guards and courtiers saw their king move, but Aragorn waved them down.
"I promised Arwen I would settle Eldarion into bed tonight, all the celebrations have upset his routine." He swigged the last of his wine, and grinned down at Elphir. "Besides, it's better if you hear it from your father. If I am not around, he'll be able to tell you what he really thought of me."
"Well," Elphir demanded of his father as soon as Aragorn had gone. "The ladies are deep in conversation, my brothers have taken Faramir to the tavern, so I think we could pass a pleasant hour delving into your disgraceful past."
"There was nothing disgraceful about it," Imrahil retorted. "But I have always been averse to being told what to do by the Steward of Gondor."
Elphir laughed. "Or anyone else for that matter."
Imrahil acknowledged the truth with a flick of his brows; already he could see his father in his mind's eye – the letter in front of him, a determined look on his face…
Dol Amroth TA 2980
Imrahil yawned, and stretched out his legs sinking lower in the chair, swallowing to try and rid his mouth of the sour taste of too much ale. He needed a drink and something sweet to eat. The cook's apricot tarts would be good. But watching the changing expression on his father's face as he scanned the dispatch from Minas Tirith, he didn't hold out much hope of breakfasting anytime soon. Ecthelion must have something important to say: the errand rider had arrived before dawn with a lathered horse and a bulky package. Although, sleeping late after a visit to the Crooked Capstan the evening before, Imrahil had missed that occurrence. His tardiness also meant his father must have had time to read the missive many times, but so far he'd not shared its contents. Imrahil shifted in his seat, stifling another yawn, which caused his father to glare at him with disgust, as if he had never visited a tavern in his life.
But his son knew better. Carved into the age-hardened oak trunk that supported the low roof of the sleaziest drinking house in the port was his father's mark – the A he enjoyed stylizing into a fair rendering of the shape of a Swan-ship. It could not be mistaken. And although the Lord of Belfalas might take care to appear moderate and restrained in all things, Imrahil had talked to leathered fishermen who well remembered a young prince rolling and rollicking his way up the hill on many a night. The thought of seeing his immaculately turned out father — who somehow managed to reach the end of even a lively skirmish with his dignity still intact, and appeared to have the knack of ordering dirt not to cling to the highly polished boots – in a less than perfect condition, made him let out a loud chuckle. This earned him another look of disapproval. But getting hungrier by the moment; the ale always did that – perhaps he should have some ham after the tarts with a baked egg – Imrahil made an effort to sit up straight and prompt his father into explanation.
"What does our worthy Steward want, Father?"
Adrahil frowned, and slapped the sheaf of correspondence down on his desk. "To join him in a raid. He asks us for two ships, each filled with a company of good fighting men to be at the harbour on Tolfalas within a week."
"Tolfalas?" Imrahil repeated, surprised. There had never been any trouble on Tolfalas. "Why there?"
"To meet with three of his own ships for a joint raid on Umbar."
"A raid on Umbar!" Breakfast forgotten, Imrahil surged with excitement.
"To hit the Corsairs at their base," Adrahil carried on. "Ecthelion feels they will become an even greater threat as the Shadow grows, especially to us."
Imrahil leant forward enthusiastically, his mind immediately going to the difficulties: they'd never get their fighting ships into that harbour without being seen. An overland attack? "He thinks a raid's possible?"
Staring out of the window to the sea, chin in hand, his father tapped his finger on the end of his nose, likewise considering the implications of such a bold venture. "Been persuaded, evidently," he said at last. "I imagine that daring assault three months ago, when the bastards scoured the coast to within a few leagues of Linhir, helped him make up his mind."
"It was a bit close to his own doorstep," Imrahil scoffed. "That's what he worried about, not us."
"Maybe, but I am inclined to think it's worth us joining in. There are no more details of the plan. That's to be given when you meet up with his forces."
"Me? You're not coming, Father?" Imrahil wanted to whoop with joy. It wouldn't be his first command, but the others had all been along their own coast. To be trusted with taking troops to raid Umbar…
"No. Tondir can take one company on Osprey, and you the other on Windsong. Take Eradan as your second in command."
Not likely! There was no way he was having one of his father's cronies watching his every move. "I'm happier with Sergion," Imrahil named his friend.
"He's too young," the dismissal was thrown back immediately.
"He's older than me," Imrahil retorted. "And he's been with me every time I have drawn arms."
His father twisted his lips into a wry smile. "Three months older, isn't he? Unless I am mistaken he is twenty-six in a few weeks' time."
"He's clever, and a natural soldier," Imrahil argued, marvelling at his father's capacity to retain knowledge. "But most importantly," he pressed, "we understand each other."
The Prince of Dol Amroth scrutinised him for a moment, drumming his fingers on the desktop. "Oh, very well."
Imrahil hid his elation at having got his own way so easily. His father must be having an off day. "So, I will be in command of our forces?"
"No. As I said, you will command one company and Tondir the other. Captain Thorongil will have overall command of the operation."
"The mercenary!" Imrahil let out a huff of disgust. Now he knew why he was being trusted. It soured the cherry slightly, but not much – he would still be away from his father's all seeing eyes. "No wonder you are happy to let me go, there's no way you'd serve under a paid soldier."
"Ecthelion does not expect it …"
"A good job, because he'd be wasting his time," Imrahil interrupted, but his father ignored the remark.
"Our Steward has particularly asked for you. And you may call Captain Thorongil a mercenary, but the man has proved his worth countless times. Gondor's enemies have been weakened because of his skill and inspiring leadership, and now he has set his sights on Umbar. He is twice your age, Imrahil, and vastly more experienced. You have to accept that." A little glint of mischief warmed his father's grey eyes. "Would you be happier serving under Denethor?"
Imrahil sniggered. "I bet he's mad, he hates playing second fiddle to Thorongil. But you are right, much as I respect Denethor, there is something cold about him. I'll never know why Finduilas agreed to have him." He eyed his father. "It wasn't as if she was bereft of suitors."
Adrahil bristled. "I did not pressure her, if that's what you're insinuating. She wished for the match, Imrahil, however strange that may seem to you. And there's no denying he is extremely fond of her. Besides, if it unites us with the line of Stewards even more, then it's a good thing for Gondor."
Imrahil shrugged. His sister could still be in her beloved Dol Amroth, with the sound of the sea in her ears, had she married another man. But too late now. He stood up, eager to be gone. "I'll go and talk to Sergion, there will be a lot to sort out."
But his father waved him down. "Not yet. There is one more thing." He shuffled the parchments, pulling one to the top and scanning the writing.
Imrahil sat reluctantly on the edge of his chair. "Well?"
"When the job is done, Ecthelion would like you to go to Minas Tirith before coming back here."
"Won't his precious Captain make a report? There's no need for me to go. I will want to get back to Blade." With a new horse to train, the raid had come at a bad time. He'd hardly had time to see what the horse could do.
His father shook his head, and then fixed his gaze on him.
"What is it?" Imrahil asked. He didn't like the set of the princely jaw. It spoke of purpose.
"Ecthelion has picked out a wife for you."
"He's what!" Imrahil stood up so abruptly the chair fell backwards with a crash.
"Lady Mirineth," his father went on as if nothing had happened. "She is a third cousin or something. Beautiful, good family, the father's rich."
Imrahil thrust both hands down on the desk, leaning over the expanse of polished wood to look his father in the eye. "I don't care if he has a dragon hoard in his cellar and she a second Lúthien, I will not marry at Ecthelion's behest. Or anyone else's for that matter!" Besides, he was too young. He didn't want a wife and all that went with it. "I mean it, Father," he said when the cool eyes never wavered. "I will not be coerced into this."
Adrahil sighed. "While I do not always agree with our noble Steward, Imrahil, I have some sympathy with his concerns. You are my only son. You have a talent and liking for warfare, so you are vulnerable. There are likely to be more fighting roles for you in the future and I would be happier to see you follow the banners if the nursery was full of babes."
Who was to say he would be more successful spawning sons than his father! But he smothered that retort and stood up straight. "No!"
"There is nothing to stop you looking, my son." The hard look disappeared. "I'll not try to force you. In the end it will be up to you, I want you to be happy. But you have not formed any serious attachment here, so you might as well enjoy a time in the City and take the opportunity to see your sister."
"I have no wish to sojourn in Minas Tirith, Father. My place is here."
"A short visit, Imrahil. That's all I'm asking."
"I have enough to think about. I am more concerned with the problems of settling a company of men on Windsong. Her captain is a cantankerous old dog."
The black eyebrows rose, conceding temporary defeat in the matchmaking. "But there's no better seaman. Just remember to be circumspect with him. A captain on his own ship outranks the Valar."
Imrahil nodded. He knew that, but did Captain Thorongil?
To be continued.
Authors note. This story will stand alone and it is not necessary for readers to be familiar with any of my other stuff to enjoy it. However, those who have read Tide of Destiny will recognise Imrahil and his friend Sergion from there. Before the end of this you will meet the ladies they married and also discover why Lothíriel had such unusual green eyes.
Much of this story is action, I am grateful to Lia and other friends at the 'Garden of Ithilien' workshop for reading through the drafts and helping me to get it right – I hope.
Happy New Year to you all. LBJ