Dol Amroth, Úrime 3020, Third Age
Yawning Éomer took the little box from the marble washing stand and opened it carefully. Dipping the corner of a small moistened cloth into the peppermint-scented toothpowder, he sampled a sufficient amount of it and started to rub his teeth, trying to get rid of the staleness in his mouth. When he finally rinsed his mouth, he had to grin: Perhaps he was lucky that Imrahil had served wine last night, so he had been drinking quite slowly, not really liking the taste, though everybody else praised it. He knew quite well he would be dealing with the mother of hangovers had there been any ale, or still worse, mead, as the feast had been boring and bothersome at the same time.
He sighed, knowing he should be content, as the trading consultations with some of the most important merchants of Southern Gondor had gone so well. Now, that the Dimholt passage was open, there were shorter ways to the Mark and he had wanted the Eorlingas to do the first step, dealing out the conditions rather than waiting for any offer the Falas might come up with. Rohan needed stable trading contracts to overcome not only the aftermath of the war but also the result of Wormtongue's machinations. He raked his fingers through his unruly mane, looking about him for a comb.
How he had hated last week's negotiations! Those conceited bastards, second and third sons of Gondorean nobles, thinking the mighty horse shit of themselves, regarding the Rohirrim as some barbarian tribe from the other side of the mountains. He grinned, remembering them whispering among themselves in Sindarin, not being aware, that he was well able to understand. At least something he should thank Grandmother Morwen for!
Having found the comb, he started to untangle his sleep-matted hair, wincing and swearing under his breath. He had expected the negotiations to be exhausting and had come well-prepared, the information Erchirion had given him beforehand having proved themselves as helpful as his daily private consultations with Imrahil. Everything had worked out just fine, so why the heck was he so on edge?
Sure, the feast had been the normal Gondorean boredom: a rich meal, stately dances and a never-ending row of hopeful fathers, shoving their no less hopeful daughters in his face. Béma, the thought of them was worse than the foul taste left by that unaccustomed wine! Gondorean "beauties"! He snorted with disdain. Give him one healthy and willing scullery maid of the Mark and they could stuff all their beauties up their stiff arses. He smirked. A barbarian they thought him, but they threw their daughters at him, or rather, truth be told, at his crown.
Throwing the comb back on the shelf he fetched some leather riband to tie back his hair. Today he would go sailing with Imrahil's offspring, and that at the least promised some fun, though he could not well imagine the daughter coming along too.
Amrothos and Erchirion had been telling him endless stories about the bliss of the sea and the pranks of their sister, but he could not bring the funny tales and affectionate descriptions into accord with the cool, aloof young woman her had met the other day. Elegant, yes, graceful, yes, intelligent, yes, beautiful...maybe. She resembled Amrothos and Imrahil a lot: tall and slender, the same jet-black hair, grey eyes, even features, high cheekbones... Numenorean blood to be sure, but he had felt rebuked by her courtly politeness, that artificial smile that had never reached her eyes. He had been quite relieved that he had not been obliged to dance with her, as she had not danced at all.
He tried to shrug off his scepticism. He needed some fresh air and there was still some time till breakfast. He briefly thought of going over to the stables, but he would not have enough time to take Firefoot for a ride, and anyway the Lady Geliris of Dol Amroth certainly would not appreciate him turning up at the breakfast table smelling of horse. Chuckling he admitted to himself that he liked Imrahil's wife a lot. Her calm friendliness had worked like a balm on his mind after hours of tedious discussions, and it had been her, who had invited him to use the concealed private garden for a walk whenever he liked, feeling he had need of exercise in between the cumbersome meetings. He had enjoyed these silent walks a lot, and so he finally decided to head for Prince Imrahil's garden.
As soon as he stepped through the wrought-iron gate into the walled garden, he felt soothed by the sight of greens of all shades, blossoms of all shapes and colours, the whispering of the light breeze in the multitude of foliage, as single trees offered shade, and the pleasant sounds of trickling water, laid over with buoyant birdsong.
Taking a deep breath of the cool air, still faintly scented with the nocturnal jasmine, he followed the meandering gravel-strewn path, till he reached a more secluded corner, he had not examined yet in his walks during the last week. Here the jasmine stood in ample shrubs, mixed with bougainvillea. He grinned to himself, remembering having asked Imrahil for the plants' names.
Quite educating, such a journey, if one did not mind the pesky and brain-numbing negotiations. Strange what a garden could do to ones mind. Éowyn would have liked it. Perhaps he should ask the Lady about the possibility to sent some of those plants to Ithilien.
He smiled, thinking of the happiness in his sister's eyes. Éowyn...Just two sennights since her marriage...
He suddenly felt cold despite the sun, colouring the encircling white walls in a soft pink. It would be strange to come home to Meduseld without her standing on the terrace to welcome him. Shaking his head like a wet dog, he tried to get rid of the moody feeling.He had to manage, and he would.
He stretched himself, resting his folded hands behind his head, bending backwards till he felt his joints crack. It would be good to be out in the fresh air for more than just some brief walks, though what to expect from a day in one of these "sloops" Imrahil's brood was so fond of he didn't know.
Approaching the climbing shrubs for a closer look at the magenta petals, he noticed that they covered a shed, probably for gardening tools or the like. Just as he was about to turn around and head back for the gate, he discerned some movement in the shed accompanied by a sound like the fluttering of a small bird's wings.
Curious all of a sudden, he entered, and as his eyes adjusted to the dimness, he saw it, all tangled up in a bundle of bast, hanging down from the low ceiling. Carefully he cupped the frightened bird, bast and all in the hollow of one of his large hands, cut the strand off and went to the door to untangle the tiny captive. Smiling he carefully plucked it out of the tangles, removing the fibres till the bird was finally freed. He recognized it as some kind of redstart, yet slightly different from what he knew from Rohan. Slowly opening his hand, he held it up, his smile deepening as it took wing, quickly disappearing into the foliage of an oleander nearby. Picking up the remains of the bast he turned to put it back, when suddenly the noise of approaching steps could be heard on the gravel. Someone stopped the other side of the thick leave curtain.
"What is it now?" he heard Erchirion ask.
"I'll just get some of these to put in a cool room, lest they wilt till the evening and not be fit for decoration any more." A female voice, strangely familiar, but he could not assign it definitely. There was a certain edge in the voice, as if the woman was suppressing her irritation. Then the clipping noise of some scissors could be heard.
He thought of stepping out of the shed to make his presence known, when the woman continued: "Don't roll your eyes like that, I know I can't avoid meeting him. That scum! What did Elphir think, inviting him anyway!" The suppressed fury in her voice was more than obvious now.
"Loth, you know how important he is for Dol Amroth."
Loth...All of a sudden Éomer realised, who she was: Lothíriel of Dol Amroth, Erchirion's sister. But who was she referring to?
"Elphir despises him as much as you do, sister, but we can't afford slighting him, with his connections and influence in Minas Tirith. It's the position Father heeds, not the man." Erchirion's voice sounded impatient and harsh.
Éomer hestitated. Who were they talking about? Would they not feel embarrassed if he turned up, making clear that he had overheard their remarks?
"I know, and I well know how important the development of trade is for both, Gondor and Rohan, but did he have to come himself? Why couldn't he send an emissary?" Her voice sounded impatient and irked.
Realisation made his skin crawl, and with clenched fists Éomer found his suspicion confirmed when Erchirion answered.
"It can't be helped, sister. I very much would have it otherwise, but it's the bane of war: Too often the brave and worthy die first, and the left-behind beneficiary gathers up the reins that were never meant for his hands."
A bitter laugh answered to that. "Aye, I'm just glad at least his poor sister managed to establish herself with a reliable husband and well out of his influence."
Echirion chuckled: "Loth, his sister has never bent to his or anybody's will, did you really expect her to start know?"
Hidden behind the curtain of bougainvilleas, Éomer bit his fist, not to roar out with rage and disappointment.
With an angry snort Erchirion's sister stopped cutting, and from the sound of it, threw the scissors into some basket. "Anyway... to invite him to our sailing trip was totally unnecessary. How can anybody with any honesty and reputation enjoy this bastard's company! I nearly choked on my fury and contempt yesterday, having to play the hostess, retaining courtly politeness face to face with that cockroach."
"You won't have to be on his boat, so try and calm down." Erchirion didn't sound very convincing.
"No, certainly not, and he may well be glad for it, because no doubt I would push him overboard. Oh, how I wished he would just drown!"
"He well may and good riddance." Erchirion's voice now sounded as bitter as hers. "Nobody will need him anyway, now the trade agreements have been signed." He sighed again. "Loth, let's make the most of it, as we can't avoid him. Let's tickle his pride and provoke him to a race, at least that would give us the opportunity to unite against him. And sailing with Amrothos you'll stand a fair chance to face him down."
Lothíriel gave a mirthless laugh. "I think you are right, though I rather would we were able to enjoy some racing without this pest present. But brother, will King Éomer be up to it? Amrothos told me, he has never been sailing before." The sounds suggested she was picking up the basket.
"Don't worry," Erchirion assured his sister, "He may not have any experience, but I think he'll be up to the challenge... Though he might well end up feeding the fish." His chuckles became fainter as the two of them strode towards the gate.
"Anyway, he'd better sail with you and Elphir. I would not like to have him aboard of Amrothos' boat. It just would not be fair..."
Whatever she added was lost to Éomer as they had walked too far by now for him to catch. He stood motionless in the dimness of the shade, till the clunk of the gate told him they had left the garden.
He never knew how he found his way out of the garden. Rage, mortification and hurt blazed inside him, gushed through his veins, the feeling of betrayal throttled him, clawed like an ice-cold fist around his racing heart, the back of his eyes burnt.
He would leave Dol Amroth. At once! Curse the negotiations, curse trade, curse alleys! He didn't need that Gondorean filth, he'd rather burn in Mordor's fires than go back and face their ever so polite deceiving smile. He would make it without them – and if not, let the void take him. He'll get his men back to Rohan.
Without noticing, he had stormed off to the stables and only when he arrived there, he woke back to reality. The dim, cool place somehow soothed his soaring temper, the familiar scent of horses and hay engulfing him like a mothering embrace.
Firefoot nickered softly, shoving his head over the low door of the box. He went up to the stallion, opened the door and went in. Immediately the charger nuzzled his face, and Éomer absentmindedly patted the grey's neck.
How could Erchirion think of him like that? How come he had never felt any clue all the time they had been together? They had almost been like brothers on the way to the Black Gate, shared the dangers of battle, the stench, the nagging uncertainty, ever been so close. And Imrahil? He felt the mere thought chilling his very soul. Brave and gentle Imrahil, whose alertness had saved Éowyn ... He had thought to know them so well – how could they have been play acting without him feeling it?
The sister? Yesterday she had been ever so cool, ever so polite, ever so distant – and then this morning's outbreak of unmasked disgust and hatred. Why? What had he done? Did they all feel like hat? He felt Firefoot nudging his hands for some treat.
"Sorry, old fellow. I haven't got anything for you." He scratched the stallion's forelock and suddenly reality sunk in.
"I haven't got anything for you."
He would have to tell that to his people... He would come home empty-handed to a people needing grain to survive the upcoming winter as for a second year there had not been enough seeds, and large parts of the Westfold lay still desolate and barren with Saruman's poison. He felt the bile rise in his throat. He couldn't do that, they deserved better.
His country needed the trade to develop, to shake off the fetters of the past... Gondor was coveting Rohan's horses and wool of superior quality, hungry for minerals and pelts... they would pay in grain and steel. The treaties were signed, the conditions were highly favourable for Rohan... Why had Imrahil supported him that much if he thought so lowly of him? He was at a total loss.
Breathing deep to steady himself, he made up his mind: They could leave tomorrow without causing a stir...in two days at the most. For his people's sake he would swallow his pride and let them pretend to be true friends some time longer. No need to come back. No need to create a scandal. His mouth twisted in a bitter smile: He had been eavesdropping, so there was no way to demand an explanation now. He should have done it there and then. And to what end? It would have been stupid, desastrous for his people. He groaned and leaned his forehead against Firefoot's neck.
"What's wrong? Regal hangover?" Éothain's jaunty voice kicked him out of his brooding. He spun round. The leader of his guard was standing in front of Firefoot's box, resting his elbows on the low door and smirking from ear to ear.
"No, but I wished it was." With a sudden pang Éomer realised he could not tell his childhood friend about what he had heard, as there was no certitude of getting Éothain's reaction under control.
Sensing the seriousness of Éomer's irritation, Éothain cocked an eye at him."Well, then who put the burr under your saddle?"
"It's nothing. I'm fine, everything is alright." Éomer found his own voice not convincing at all.
His friend simply snorted: "My arse! If that's the face you pull if everything is alright I don't want to see you if you're having some problems."
Éomer just shrugged. "Can't be helped. Try and find an apple for that big oaf of mine. I'm bound to go sailing with Imrahil's children."
Éothain chuckled. "Ah, that's the way the wind blows! You'll be in for quite some puking as they told me in the barracks. Imrahil's brats are said to have learned sailing from Osse himself. Quite a bunch of pirates, and the girl the worst of all, from what they say."
He opened the door of the box for Éomer to pass through. Then he clapped his friend and king's shoulder. "That's what you get for being King: You have to face the dangers of the sea and make an ass of yourself in front of Imrahil's offspring, and Rohan will get fed."
Éomer cringed inwardly. Far too near the mark for his taste. At least his friend believed to have caught the reason for his obvious uneasiness. They left the stables together, and when Éomer took his leave to enter the palace and join Imrahil's family for breakfast, Éothain gave him a nudge: "Just to be sure... You won't tell me about the real hitch, will you?"
Éomer looked up. "What are you yakking about?"
Éothain shook his head. "Éomer, you may be able to sell some lie to those snotty courtiers, but you can't deceive a friend. That's just impossible."
Wish you were right. Éomer looked into his friend's eyes: cerulean, open, honest, the worried look obvious now.
"No," he said, "you're wrong. It may well be possible, but friends are simply not supposed to deceive you."
He entered the parlour, thankful that the routine that had settled in during the past week enabled him to behave in a casual and unsuspicious manner. Prince Imrahil and his wife were already sitting at the large polished mahogany table accompanied by their eldest son Elphir and their daughter Lothíriel. Amrothos and Ercheirion were nowhere to be seen. Food was displayed as always on a sideboard, and after bidding the princely family a good morning, Éomer went to take some bread and cheese, his appetite being less than low.
Imrahil gave him a queer look. "Amrothos and Erchirion went ahead to the harbour to ready the boats," the Prince explained, adding with a subtle grin: "How do you feel, Éomer? You look a bit tense."
"Perhaps we all would, if it was to be our first day aboard a boat," Elphir, always the diplomat, interjected, though he couldn't keep himself from grinning and quipping with a slight undertone: "Though I don't know how deep you were in your cups yesterday."
"Just stop it!" Éomer startled at the quite sharp tone of the remark. Lothíriel had risen from the table and now came over to where he still stood near the sideboard. "As far as I noticed, Lord Éomer drank near to nothing at the feast."
Very well, Lady Disdain coming to his rescue. Éomer felt his jaws set.
"My Lord," she addressed him, " I had cook prepare some ginger tea for you. It will hopefully prevent your stomach from unnecessary upheaval." Her voice was even, her face serious, rather showing concern if anything else. How could she dissemble like that? He felt like gagging.
He put down the plate he was holding and said as calm as possible: "Well, perhaps I shouldn't eat anything then."
"No," she stated emphatically, "That would just make things worse. It's an ordeal if your stomach is heaving and there is nothing in it you can throw up."
"You'd better believe my daughter," Imrahil laughed. "I've seen more than one bold sailor hanging over the guardrail all green in the face. It's even advisable to keep eating in between the puking fits, as long as you manage to get the food faster down than it comes up again."
"What a fitting topic of conversation for a royal breakfast table," his wife remarked drily, much to her husbands merriment.
"Don't you worry, Éomer, " the Prince finally added in a more sober manner, "I don't even think there is any danger of you getting seasick. The wind is just fine and steady and the swell is not worth mentioning, so there is a solid chance you'll enjoy the day. Though I would advise you, to rather sail with Erchirion."
"That's what I'll do as well," Elphir admitted laughingly. "Amrothos is sailing like a drunken Umbarian, much too risky for my taste. Let Lothíriel capsize together with him, to make them get what they both deserve!"
His sister gave just the kind of snort Éomer had heard from his hiding place in the garden and busied herself, pouring some of the ginger tea and handing him the cup. Taking it reluctantly, he sat down besides her. How could they all manage to behave so totally cordial towards him? Had he not up to now taken pride in his ability to sense falsehood when it encountered him? Looking up, he found Lothíriel glaring at her grinning brother, their parents watching the two of them, smiling lightly.
At last Imrahil shook his head. "Nay, Elphir, they won't do you the favour, though I dare say they tempt fate."
Turning to Éomer he explained: "They are mad about sailing, but they know what they are doing. Nevertheless, as it is your first try at sailing, going with Erchirion's boat will probably be more convenient for you, as it is steadier."
"As is the captain," Elphir added.
How very nicely and thoughtful they worked together to get him on Erchirion's boat and out of his sister's way! Éomer felt the bite of white soft bread he had just taken like wool in his mouth. What a lying show they were putting up!
"Try Erchirion on the tour towards Tol Cobas," Lothíriel said, giving her brother a dark look, "and if everything is alright with you, and you feel up to it, come with Amrothos and me on the way back, to get a taste of real sailing."
Being at a loss of words, Éomer looked at the grinning faces across the table. What was it, he wasn't compassing? He wished he could jump up, upturn the table and just jell his frustration at them, when the calm voice of Imrahil's wife reached his ear.
"Children, I do hope you'll enjoy the trip, but please, be careful and don't set aside reason. Remember you are having a dear guest and friend in your care and responsibility."
Looking up he caught her eyes: a soft brown, like the fertile soil of the Emnet, and with a jolt of his heart he saw worry in them and sadness unconcealed.
Úrime: Quenja equivalent of August
Before the toothbrush was introduced in Europe in the seventeenth century, people used different kind of pastes or powders, rubbing them on their teeth with rags or simply the fingers in order to clean off the dental plaque.