Éomer goes Fishing - A story in two parts, written because Lia gave me a great big nudge.
Dol Amroth 3020
The door opened; Éomer blinked. First around the panelled wood came a clutch of four glinting spears – long, thick, deadly.
The spears were followed by Amrothos. Éomer put down his knife. Spears were not normally presented at the breakfast table, but with Lothiriel's youngest brother you could never expect normality. Amrothos flashed white teeth, his grin wide enough to encompass all the assembled family members.
"It's a good day for it!"
Since Amrothos looked straight at him, Éomer guessed he was expected to ask why. "A good day for what?"
But Lothíriel flew to her feet before the question could be answered, banging her cup down on the table furiously. "No, Amrothos. Not now, that's not fair! Éomer will be going in a couple of days. We haven't much time left."
His thoughts exactly, and he hoped to spend much of those couple of days somewhere secluded, with his lips pressed against those of his betrothed. He reached out his hand and took hold of her slim fingers. "Whatever it is, I don't have to …."
"Yes, you do," Amrothos flashed back. "We need you. Don't we, Erchirion?" His gaze swivelled to his brother.
"Certainly. It's good you are here, Éomer." Erchirion continued to spread a roll with honey, whilst looking at him wryly from under arched brows. "Your expertise with a spear will be extremely valuable."
Éomer sighed; already defeat hung menacingly over him. "For what?"
"Squid hunting!" Lothíriel sat back down crossly, glaring at her brothers. "They want to go squid hunting."
"We don't want to go, Lothy." Amrothos carefully propped the spears in a corner before pulling out a chair to sit opposite them. "But the fishermen are being harried again, and it's our duty."
Éomer stared at the spears for a moment, and then back to Amrothos. "Am I hearing this right – you are going to use those spears to catch squid?"
"Not catch, Éomer." Amrothos sounded as if he was talking to an imbecile. "Kill."
Why did his head always pound in Amrothos' company? He forced a smile. "Squid, as per that slimy thing floating in a disgusting black broth you tried to make me eat last night? It was about," Éomer used his hands to judge, "well, no more than nine inches." One inch had been enough!
"Unfortunately, Éomer," Elphir chimed in, "that was a common squid, caught in their hundreds on dark nights by attracting them to the light of a torch. Amrothos is talking about Giant Squid, a creature of the deep that is sometimes attracted to the surface on bright days…"
"Like today," Amrothos butted in.
Elphir ignored him, probably from long practice. "We think the males see the dark shapes of boats against the light and mistake them for females," he mused. "Anyway, giant squid can grow to forty feet or more and rogue ones sometimes attack our fishermen."
"A forty foot long fish!" Éomer exclaimed, not at all sure he wanted to meet one, even with a spear that size. Suspicious – who wouldn't be – he quickly recalled the date to mind. But All Fools Day had been and gone.
"Not a fish, Éomer." Erchirion sat back in his chair, a small smile playing on his lips. "Squid are thought to be related to slugs."
"You tried to get me to eat a slug!" Incensed, Éomer rounded on Amrothos, the main culprit in the previous night's conspiracy, who did nothing but grin.
"Merely related, Éomer. Like a donkey is related to a horse."
"Rohirric horses are not related to donkeys!" he snapped, only to groan when he heard the stifled sniggers. He had reacted just as intended. If the Mark wasn't across a range of mountains from Dol Amroth, he'd seriously reconsider marrying Lothíriel. Except that he loved her so much … and with luck he wouldn't see Amrothos that often.
"Look at it this way, Éomer." Amrothos gave him a benign smile, "if some of your farmers were under threat from a rabid warg, you'd ride out to hunt it down. And if we happened to be visiting, you'd expect us to help."
Like hell he would! Feeling as if he was riding up a cliff face with a broken girth, he turned to Imrahil in mute appeal. He could rely on his friend for a sensible contribution. But Imrahil wiped his mouth with a napkin, hiding a smile before he spoke.
"A giant squid makes an appearance once in a while, Éomer. I have been on many such hunts in my lifetime, but feel I am a little old for such an outing now. However, I am sure you will enjoy it."
"Well, I don't feel I'm too old, so I am definitely going," Elphir announced. "You'll make a fourth, won't you, Éomer. That'll give us two each side of the boat."
Éomer looked around the table, undecided. He didn't like boats much, and had no experience of fighting oversize slugs. Amrothos wore his customary grin. Imrahil smiled at him encouragingly. Erchirion carried on with his breakfast. Maedeth, Elphir's wife, looked entirely unconcerned – so squid hunting couldn't be that dangerous. Or that bad, if Elphir – whom he considered the most sensible of the three brothers – was prepared to take part. Resigned to his fate, he turned to Lothíriel to gain her reaction. She shrugged unenthusiastically.
"I suppose it is a threat. I would feel awful if I tried to stop you and some poor defenceless fisherman was hurt."
So would he, but he couldn't help letting out a deep sigh. "All right, so when do we start?"
"Oh, as soon as we've eaten," Amrothos replied with obvious glee. "The boat is waiting."
Arriving at the harbour half an hour later, Éomer gained some relief by seeing that the boat was a heavy, open fisher, with a large sail and two pairs of oars. He'd been a bit worried they would be going in one of the wobbly sailboats Lothíriel liked to take him out in. But Elphir put him right on that.
"It has to look like a desirable female from underneath, Éomer, to attract our friend. It won't go for something small."
"And of course a really big squid could turn over a small boat easily," Amrothos interjected, taking the spot by the tiller.
Turn a boat over! But the brothers didn't look concerned, so he shrugged. "Let's hope for a not too big one then."
Rather reluctantly Éomer settled himself on a middle thwart, leaving getting the boat ready to the princes. Within moments the sail was up, let right out, and Amrothos headed the craft into the bay. No one bothered with the oars, shipping them along the length of the boat with the spears.
The sun shone, and thankfully the breeze was enough to push the boat along without tipping it. In the distance he could a see a few small fishing boats, gulls clamouring around them as their nets were lifted. But the gannets did their own fishing, plummeting into the sea from incredible heights to spear their prey, and so did the goldeneyes. The chunky ducks swam together in close-packed rafts, upending themselves almost in unison, to appear moments later with small crabs waving from their bills.
Éomer loosened the collar of his tunic, admitting that it was reasonably pleasant and, anyway, he enjoyed new challenges and a giant squid would certainly provide one. He might even enjoy himself.
Elphir and Erchirion played with the sail for ages before they sat down – although Éomer couldn't see any difference than from when they first started. Amrothos tied the tiller to keep the boat on a straight course and the three princes leant back against the gunwales, legs stretched out. Looking for all the world as if they were on a family jaunt. Éomer, who had been scanning the sea for any sign of the thing they were hunting, glanced at Amrothos and saw he had his eyes closed. Not exactly on guard, any of them.
"Don't you think you had better give me an idea of the best way to deal with these creatures," Éomer said to no one in particular. "They are new foes to me."
"Well," Elphir replied, "it's pretty straightforward. We all hack off as many tentacles as we can, and one of us has to shove a spear down its beak."
"Its beak! I thought you said it was some kind of slug."
"It is, Éomer." Erchirion sat up straight to explain, his habitual amused expression well in evidence. "That's what the mouth part is called. It's made from something hard and is shaped rather like a parrot's beak."
"They use their tentacles to catch their prey and pull it towards their beak," Elphir explained.
"And then the beak chomps you up," Amrothos put in, making munching movements with his hand.
Involuntarily, Eomer's fingers went to the hilt of his sword. "So we have to make sure we get all the tentacles and keep away from its beak." Gúthwinë had hacked off orcs' heads, disembowelled wargs and sliced open Haradrim, no doubt it could deal with an angry squid. He felt quite confident until Amrothos leant forward and spoke into his ear.
"The tentacles are as thick as a man's thigh. And there are ten of them. If one catches you, it will drag you over the side of the boat and hold you under the water until you drown."
"The trick is not to let them get their suckers on you," Erchirion added. "They stick like glue and then you're done for."
Ten great squirming tentacles – four of them. Not good odds. But Éomer suddenly caught sight of Elphir's lips twitching – the buggers, they were having him on. Forty foot slugs! His first suspicions had been right. He stretched nonchalantly. "Well, that sounds fine. If one appears I'll have no qualms about dealing with it. You lot can get back to sleep if you like." He kept his expression bland for a moment and enjoyed the surprise on their faces, but then a chuckle escaped.
"Oh, you guessed," Amrothos' face fell. "I thought we'd be able to get you shaking in your boots."
"Next time, perhaps." Éomer grinned. "Come on, what's this all about? Tell me why you have really brought me out here, not just to keep me away from your sister, I imagine."
"No, but Squids Hunts are a tradition for prospective bridegrooms." Elphir got up and made his way forward. "This is what it's really about." He pulled aside a piece of canvas to reveal a neat pile of wineskins, a firkin of ale, two large wicker baskets, some simply made bows and half a dozen short, lightweight spears with barbed points. "In most of Gondor it's called a Stag Hunt. Basically, a party of friends go out to, so say, hunt for the elusive White Stag. But it's really no more than a convenient excuse for some lively merrymaking. Our family, however, has Squid Hunts. This is the last time you will be in Dol Amroth before the wedding, so it's our only chance."
Grinning, he passed Éomer a wineskin. "We'll have to wait until we get to the island before we tap the barrel. And then it will need to settle. This will have to do until then."
Éomer quickly removed the stopper and took a mighty swig. He deserved it. The warm rich wine trickled down his throat comfortingly. "But why a Squid Hunt? And are there such giants, or is it a complete invention?"
Elphir passed his brothers a skin each before he answered. "No, not an invention. There are tales of fishermen seeing them, and attacks have been documented, but not in our lifetime. If they are real, they rarely come up from the deep."
Éomer laughed. "Well, that's a relief. I have no wish to drown," he took another swig, "not in water anyway."
That caused a general guffaw. Perhaps it was worth missing a day with Lothíriel to have a bit of fun with her brothers, although the three months to the wedding would seem an age. "We're going to one of the islands, are we?"
"That one straight ahead." Amrothos pointed to an island a fair distance away, topped with a slight mound and a few trees. "It has a good flat beach. Ideal for what we want."
Éomer halted the wineskin before it reached his mouth again. He didn't like the sound of this. "Why do we want a flat beach?"
"You don't think we brought those great spears for nothing, do you?" Amrothos chuckled. "First off is a spear throwing competition with a nice juicy forfeit for the loser."
"I think you are forgetting, Amrothos, that our future brother is extremely likely to win any spear throwing contest. I doubt Éomer will be paying a forfeit." Erchirion threw his younger sibling a speculative look. "Unless you've weighted the spears."
"I have not!" Amrothos retorted, his face a picture of indignation. "Anyway, his turn will come. I doubt he has any experience of spearing flatfish through a few feet of glinting water."
So that's what the short ones were for. Éomer groaned. Had he thought he was going to enjoy this? "And the bows?"
"Oh, we'll think of something you'll have problems with," Amrothos promised with an airy wave of his hand.
"But of course, although we will have a great time on the island, the Squid Hunt fulfils another important purpose." Erchirion stuck on a severe look, directing it towards Éomer."Confining you on the boat gives us a chance to make sure that you are going to treat our sister well."
Suddenly Éomer found himself pinned by three pairs of grey eyes. Were they serious? Probably, as he had behaved similarly, but at least Faramir had only had to contend with the threats from one brother. He pulled himself up straight. "I can assure you that Lothíriel will never have anything to complain about." Feeling he had said all that needed to be uttered on the subject, Éomer lifted the wineskin to his lips.
"That's the other beauty of a Squid Hunt," Amrothos chirped up with relish. "The bridegroom gets told how to keep his wife happy!"
Éomer gagged, wine spurted back out of his mouth, catching the lower edge of his tunic and spraying over the bottom planks. "Amrothos," he choked, struggling with a coughing fit, "let me tell you that there's no way I am going listen to any of that kind of advice from you! Or, in fact, any other kind." Just in case the idiot was tempted.
The threesome erupted into laughter. "Oh, not from me, I know nothing about marriage." Amrothos agreed unabashed, when he'd stopped chortling. "But luckily brother Elphir does. He'll put you right."
He would not! "I do not need any instruction!" Éomer managed to get out with only a wheeze.
"An expert on women, are you, Éomer?" Elphir chuckled, seeing his enraged expression. "Don't worry, I am not about to tell you how to bed my sister. But women are one thing; wives are a different species entirely."
Éomer shook his head in resignation and lifted the wineskin again. The only way to get through this was with copious amounts of drink. "Go on, tell me. In what way are wives different?"
Elphir took a long draught from his skin before he replied. "Before you are married, Éomer, they see you as a hero. Maedeth used to go all dewy eyed every time I put my armour on…"
"Now there's something very different in her eyes when he takes if off," Erchirion interrupted, winking at him.
Elphir's face flushed slightly, provoking a loud hoot from Amrothos.
"What I am saying, Éomer," Elphir continued as best he could, "is that after marriage women see us differently. Once the vows are made, they somehow think it their duty to change us…"
"It's called nagging," Amrothos offered. "An excellent reason for remaining in the single state. Do you know how well my sister can nag, Éomer? She's had so much practice on us, you're going to get it in the neck every time you move. They're all the same. Look at poor Elphir…"
"Amrothos shut up!" Elphir glared at him. "All women nag. Maedeth is normal in that respect." He shook his head woefully. "But you are right about Lothíriel, I am afraid. She has a sharp tongue on her. Of course, she hides it well."
Éomer stared at him for a moment before he started laughing. He'd never expected Elphir of having such a sense of humour. "Shall we accept that I am going to marry a harridan, and talk about something else? Like what's in those wicker baskets. Not squid, I hope."
"Lots of goodies to go with the fish we are going to catch," Amrothos told him. At that moment they all jumped, as with a thrashing of short wings, the goldeneyes took off as one, heading for the shore.
Four pairs of eyes followed them. Éomer noticed the gannets had gone too, the sea empty all around them.
Amrothos shrugged. "More fish left for us. And there's nothing like fresh fish sizzling over a driftwood fire. Good food, man's talk, with no women to put a halt to the drinking."
"That reminds me," Éomer said. "Do the ladies really think you go out after giant squid?"
"Of course," Erchirion answered. "There are just enough tales to make it believable. Naturally, we never catch one. It always just gets away."
"So, you've never seen one?"
Erchirion shook his head. "Not even a hint of one, and not likely to, with the vastness of the ocean."
Suddenly they were all flung off their seats as the boat lurched round, canvas cracking in protest.
"Whoa! What was that?" Elphir scrambled to his feet and peered over the side.
"You've hit a rock, Amrothos, you imbecile!" Erchirion shouted, as with another shudder, the boat swung into the wind, the sail flogging from side to side.
Amrothos grabbed the tiller, using his knife to slash the cord he'd tied it with. "I have not! There aren't any rocks …. Great Ulmo!" he gasped, pointing over Eomer's shoulder.
Éomer turned his head to look. The sea boiled around them. What the…! He didn't believe what he was seeing – a huge shape rose out of the heaving water and he saw a massive eye staring at him.
Amrothos wrestled with the boat, trying to get it moving. But it was as if something held them fast. "Watch out!" Erchirion yelled, just as the sail wrapped around him and Elphir.
A huge, pinkish tentacle swung in an arc and landed on the boat, just to Eomer's left. The hideous feeler slithered straight for his leg. Great Bema! It had to be twenty foot long. The boat rocked dangerously. Éomer clung to the gunwale with one hand, drawing his sword with the other. The end of the tentacle wrapped round his ankle. He hacked at it, but the damn thing was covered with horrible suckers, as tough as mail.
Another tentacle snaked over the side. It squirmed straight around his thigh, tightening painfully. Elphir and Erchirion pushed past the impeding canvas and fell on it, both slashing wildly.
Eomer's heart thudded – the monster had the strength of a Mûmak and he was being pulled off his feet as it tried to drag him into the sea. Just as he thought his leg would break, Amrothos let go the tiller and added his sword. Suddenly the pressure eased, and the noisome tentacle landed in the bottom of the boat, still wriggling.
But he still hadn't got right through the first. With a last desperate stroke, Gúthwinë severed the remaining sinuous flesh and a second revolting worm slithered around his feet.
"Here!" Erchirion retrieved one of the big spears and passed it to Éomer. Quickly he pulled the others out.
Éomer launched his, it embedded into the quivering mass of flesh near the creature's eye. Three more hissed past him, ripping into its body. Swords ready, they waited fearfully for another attack, but the thing rose right above the surface and its limbs – tentacles – Éomer didn't know – waved in the air before crashing down on the water, sending gallons swilling over the boat. With a mournful wail the monster sank below the waves. One spear was left floating on the water, but the rest were dragged into the deep. The water calmed, it was as if the creature had never been – except for the two oozing tentacles lying in the bottom of the boat.
Shocked into silence, they all stared at them.
"That, I presume, was a Giant Squid," Éomer said when air returned to his lungs.
Erchirion took a deep breath. "I don't think it could be anything else. I imagine that answers the question as to whether they exist or not."
"Do you think we could talk about it later? It might have a friend," Elphir said, prodding a tentacle with his foot. He directed his gaze at his younger brother who had made no attempt to take the tiller again, allowing the boat to wallow in the swell. "Get us out of here, Amrothos."
Amrothos wiped his sword on the edge of the flapping canvas. "You'll have to pull the sail round by hand to get us going."
Éomer got out of their way, waiting until the boat was back on course before he too poked at one of the tentacles. Ugh! It was horrible. "What are you going to do with these?"
"Take them back as a trophy," Elphir suggested.
"There's a lot of flesh on them. I wonder what they're like roasted on an open fire," Amrothos mused.
"Eat them!" Éomer turned on him horrified. "You're not serious."
"Well, squid is good. Not like we tried to give you, but fried in breadcrumbs…"
Éomer didn't wait. He picked up the first and heaved it over the side, before grabbing the second and sliding it over the gunwale. Now his hands stunk. And he didn't fancy trailing them in the water.
"Why did you do that? No one will believe us." Elphir looked a bit crestfallen.
Erchirion shrugged. "It doesn't matter. There are four of us to corroborate the story."
"I still don't think we will be believed," Elphir retorted.
Éomer didn't care if they were believed or not, the island was close and he wanted his feet on dry land. Bema! They had to get back! One of the wineskins lay at his feet and he picked it up. Now he needed a drink even more.
"I'll bet you'll remember this, Éomer," Amrothos grinned at him. "I am not sure that I won't stick to Stag Hunts in the future."
"Might be a bit safer," Erchirion agreed. "What about when we come to Rohan for the wedding, Éomer. Do you have any similar custom?"
Éomer thought about the tradition of a party of friends going out to hunt the mystical black boar that lived in the forests of the White Mountains. The beast was rumoured to stand as high as a horse and have yard-long tusks. It only appeared when a man was due to be married.
"No! We have nothing."