TheCompleteHistoryofDolAmroth (volume seven of the third edition) missed blackening Amrothos' eye by a matter of inches and, flying out the door, skittered across the stone hallway to its final resting place against the far wall. He looked impressed. I wasn't the kind of girl to usually throw things that weren't insults. I sighed and grinned. "Sorry, Amrothos but if you're just going to hang around and blather on about something I can't change and don't really care about, I will probably just keep throwing things at you."
"No, its fine," my brother smirked. "It's good training to fit in with our new in-laws I suppose. Go get volume eight over there and see if you can really land one."
But I just flopped face down on my bed, letting my arms splay out to either side so I looked like I'd drowned in the blankets. "Oh, absolutely keep talking about that...it's just what I want," I said, voice muffled.
In just a few days our cousin Faramir would be marrying Lady Éowyn of Rohan. Today a contingent of Rohirrim was due to arrive, our future cousin-in-law among them. Amrothos, usually quite strident in his anti-Rohan sentiments anyway, had worked himself into such a lather this morning I was surprised he hadn't started foaming at the mouth.
"It's disgusting," he continued as if he hadn't heard me. "What do Faramir and that Ranger King think they are playing? Faramir is the Steward of Gondor and the Rohirrim are practically savages. The marriage is so far beneath him it's laughable."
I rolled my head to the side so my voice wasn't muffled in my mattress. "Well...I've heard it's a love match," I said simply.
"Don't talk to me about that viscous rumor," Amrothos snapped. "As if someone of our blood could fall in love with a Rohirrim. Bed the wench sure; get her with a bastard son fine; but marry her? The meanest scullery maid in Gondor would make a better marriage than this barbarian."
I shrugged into the mattress. "This particular barbarian apparently saved our father's life at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and slew the Witch King of Angmar. Besides, times are changing. Rohan is our new ally."
"Oh, would you stop it Lothíriel?" he asked flatly. "This new thing of talking of the blood of Gondor as if it meant nothing is a fad. By next spring people when people realize this Ranger King is no heir to our throne they'll remember why we kept the bloodlines pure for all these centuries."
"I wouldn't let father hear you talking like that," I said simply. "He thinks King Elessar will be the salvation of Gondor, and the alliance with Rohan too."
There had always been two halves of the house of Dol Amroth that had never quite fitted together to make a whole. On one side there was my father and my brothers Elphir and Erchirion. They were trained Swan Knights who had fought in the Ring War and they were the kind of proud, hard, noble men that stories are written about. And then there was Amrothos and me. We had been sent to foster with Denethor when I was five and he was ten and court life was all we knew. Amrothos knew how to wield a sword well enough for some very formal duelling exercises and I had been taught all about honor and courtesy and other suitable qualities for a lady. But these were theoretical exercises. What was most important to us was making sure that we kept our places in the hierarchy of the court, which had always required a lot of extremely dishonourable conduct.
I can't blame Denethor for my sharp tongue. According to my aunt I'd come by that honestly through my mother. But I was never encouraged to learn to control it. I used it like a weapon, and indiscriminately. I would shout at my maids in the morning and then slash at the honor and self-esteem of some of my closest friends in the afternoon.
But then had come Pelennor Fields. Amrothos, like most of the young nobility of the court of Denethor, had retreated back to various strongholds to wait the battle out. I had made the decision to stay flippantly. I'd been quarrelling with Amrothos the morning we were supposed to leave and I'd declared that I would, as I'd shouted rather emphatically at him "rather die than spend a couple of months with him locked away in some Valar-cursed mountain castle." If there had been anyone responsible for us they would surely have made me leave. But Denethor kept little track of the two of us and we were free to come and go as we pleased. When I simply stayed, no one questioned my decision.
By the time I realized the mistake I had made it was too late for me to leave, though for a day I had demanded over and over that someone let me. For a day I had felt wronged and I'd sobbed and sobbed at the injustice of it. I wasn't a peasant or a warrior. It seemed somehow unfair that I should die as if my life meant nothing and I had said as much to some of the household staff who had been forced to remain as well when I had decided to stay. Over the next few days most of the staff were pressed into service: the men to bolster the fighting ranks and the women to help at the Houses of Healing.
When Feleas, my handmaiden, had come to tell me that she too was leaving for the Houses of Healing I had gone with her, too scared to be alone. At first I had simply sat on a stool in the corner, gathering my skirts elegantly around me as if that could protect me from the smell of blood and the screaming. When finally one of the healers had roughly commanded me to come and help her carry in a man who had an arrow through his chest I had been so stunned it hadn't even occurred to me to snap that I would have her whipped if she addressed me without my title and in that tone again. I'd simply slipped my shoulders under the man's arm, his blood spilling down my dress.
And I found that the work helped me keep my mind from spinning into the abyss of panic that had taken it over for days. When all my energy and attention were turned to the dying around me I found it was easier not to imagine my own death somehow. And sleep, which had seemed impossible, came the second that my head touched a cot. By the second day I had forgotten somehow that I was a lady. I was just a pair of hands in the Houses of Healing, no cleaner or less useful than any others. I helped carry the sick. I gave succor to the dying. And by the time it was all over I found that some part of myself had died too.
When the siege lifted and hope and life flooded back into the city and back into my mind I felt as if I woke to a new world. Or perhaps not a new world but a new girl, who had woken inside me. I had read in a book somewhere that after being hit on the head sometimes people experienced a kind of forgetfulness so complete they couldn't remember their own name or the faces of their loved ones. I felt that I had experienced the same thing, though not of facts and faces but rather of motivation and pleasure. The things I used to enjoy: the gossip of the court, scoring a victory over the other ladies, treachery, intrigue and scandal now left me somehow revolted. I couldn't quite remember what I had liked about my life.
The night after the siege broke Feleas and I had gone out to the tavern together, both dressed in her clothes, and we had drank and danced and laughed with the other healers. I had thought that I would always feel the way that I did and nothing would ever be complicated again. But then Amrothos had come back to Minas Tirith and all the ladies of the court too and of course everything had gone back to exactly the way it was before...or almost.
As if conjured by my thoughts, Feleas appeared at my door to help me dress. She stood meekly behind Amrothos, waiting for us to acknowledge her. "Good morning, Feleas," I said, sitting up.
"Good morning, my lady," she said. "I have come to help you dress for the procession into the city. Have you selected what you would like to wear?"
I went to my closet and opened it. Inside was an explosion of bright silk and satin dresses, scarves, cloaks, gloves, shoes and jewellery. I loved nice clothes and dressing up. I loved the feel of expensive fabric moving over my skin almost as much as I loved knowing that people were watching the way it does. I selected a dark blue satin dress with a simple cut of short sleeves and a long skirt that rippled around my legs when I walked in a way that made them look even longer than they were.
Amrothos rolled his eyes theatrically. "Yes, thank the servant for doing her duty. Who do you think you are, Lothi? Some boring wench from the stories with a heart of gold. Why don't you just go wash the lepers in the Houses of Healing?"
I had never told Amrothos what had happened during the siege. He would never understand what had happened to me. Likely he would use it against me. I sighed. "Yes Amrothos...if I have one fault that really stands out it's my overwhelming benevolence and charity. Now get out of my rooms while I change."
"Fine. But do hurry up. If I have to sit alone with Elphir and Erchirion for too long while we wait for these horse-people to arrive I'm likely to die of boredom."
"Yes, yes, I'm coming," I agreed impatiently. "Now get out or I won't come at all."
Feleas helped me dress quickly, cinching the tight bodice of the dress closely and helping me find the matching kid-gloves and some silver slipper-shoes. She pulled my hair back into a simple bun and fastened it with a silver clip. "You look well, my lady," she said when she had finished.
"Thank you," I said. "I'm sorry about Amrothos by the way. I asked him to stop but he just told me that I might as well ask him not to sit on any of my chairs. He can be...difficult I know, especially to...to..."
Feleas waved me off. "Please, my lady." If I had managed to find a finish to that sentence she wouldn't have been able to find an appropriate response anyway so we let it lie.
To get over the awkward moment Feleas presented me with the garland of flowers she had woven for me to give to King Éomer. It was a traditional gift of welcome. She had done it beautifully. It was white daisies interspersed with blushing purple tulips.
I made my way down into the main courtyard of the castle where most of the nobles of Gondor had already arranged themselves to greet our guests. I found my family had claimed a position of high honor, just to the left of King Elessar and Queen Arwen. My father spotted me and waved me over impatiently.
"There you are, Lothíriel," he said sharply. "Where have you been?"
I curtseyed deeply. "I apologize, my lord," I said, offering no explanation.
My brother Erchirion gave me with a smile. "Your garland looks lovely Lothíriel. I'm sure Éomer King will like it the best of all the ladies."
I smiled at him. "I'll tell Feleas you said so," I forced myself to say. "She wove it for me."
"You didn't weave your own garland?" my father asked sharply. Traditionally the ladies of the court were meant to weave them with their own hands as a sign of respect.
I tried to keep smiling though I was blushing furiously. "Well, I am afraid I never learned, Father. I didn't want to shame us by giving my first attempt to such an important visitor. If you like this one Erchirion, I'll be sure to ask Feleas how to duplicate it."
I had always been scared of my father. He was a great man and he saw right through me. Most honorable people are blinded by their own goodness. That well of human kindness in them looks for its mirror in other people. They never see people like me coming because they never seem to quite understand how we can be the way that we are. It can be a really fantastic tactical advantage. But it wasn't true of my father. Who I pretended to be around him was a facade and he'd always known just what was underneath. He was a great man, as I say, but I think it also takes a certain kind of hardness to look at your own daughter and find her wanting, even if it is true.
"That was awfully honest of you, Lothíriel," Amrothos said pointedly. "Don't you think Lothíriel is being quite brave by telling the truth about where her garland came from, father?"
Amrothos' true message was easy enough to decipher. I only had to replace honest with stupid and brave by foolish. But neither my father nor my other brothers seemed to hear it. For some reason Amrothos' act had gone over better with the rest of the family than mine had. He had chosen the character of a sickening, cloying, pathetic sycophant that I wished I'd had the good sense to mimic. He was so repugnant to the rest of my family they never bothered to inspect his behaviour too closely.
"Well yes I suppose so," my father said reluctantly.
I told myself I didn't care what my father thought. What did it matter to me if he knew that I considered gathering flowers beneath my station? Until a few months ago, I had. And really, I didn't know this Rohirrim King, why did I owe him the favor of weaving him a garland anyway? It was ridiculous to feel ashamed about it, I assured myself. I stared out ahead of myself and made sure to keep any trace of apology off my features.
"Why do you say, ÉomerKing?" I asked Erchirion casually. "I've noticed that you always call him that and not King Éomer like you call King Elessar, King Elessar."
"In Rohirric the name comes first. The riders of Rohan almost always translate it in that way when they speak in Westron. I suppose I picked the habit up from them when we were riding together," he explained.
"Oh, that's interesting," I lied. "Is it very different...Rohirric I mean?"
He shrugged. "I never learned much past the greetings."
I chatted some with Erchirion as we waited for the procession to arrive. I pointed out various ladies of the court and told him funny anecdotes about them while he laughed. He was just as honorable and brave as my father and Elphir but he was much easier to talk to. He wasn't stern like they were and he thought I was funny. He wasn't as easy to make laugh as Amrothos, he wouldn't like my meaner jokes, but it meant more to me when he did.
But then the fanfare began, letting us know that the procession was approaching and making conversation impossible. I had seen a thousand processions before and I was surprised to find that this one was somehow impressive. It wasn't particularly elegant, in fact it was evident that the riders had ridden hard that day and though their banners were high and never wavered, they looked dirty and tired. But it is true that the Rohirrim are all excellent horsemen and that, as well as their fierce pride, was in abundant display. Each rider looked like he carried the dignity of his kingdom on his saddle with him. I found suddenly and wholly unexpectedly, that my heart was beating high in my chest again but this time with the strange, agonizing emotion of a truly moving sight. I hadn't been expecting that at all. As a child I had been moved by the ideas of honor and glory but that had been years ago. And I had made so many compromises since then.
Keeping my voice low enough that I was sure Amrothos couldn't hear, I whispered to Erchirion, "They are quite impressive, aren't they?"
"You should have seen Éomer charge the Nazgul at Pelennor Fields. I thought my heart would burst at the joyful glory of it," he said.
"I would have liked to see that," I said, surprising myself when I realized that it was true.
"But which one is the king?" I began to ask but then my eyes found Éomer for the first time and the question died on my lips. His armor was no finer than any of the other riders. Neither was his horse any grander and there was no crown on his head. But there didn't need to be. This was a man who needed only the aura of his command to crown him. His helm was off and I could see his long blond hair lying over his shoulders but he was too far away to make out his eyes or his features. He was powerfully built I could see, even through his armor. I would learn later that Éomer was called the Lion of Rohan long before I ever saw him but that morning it was a lion I thought of too: a powerful predator with a shining mane of golden hair.
The riders rode into the main square of Minas Tirith and to a standstill in front of King Elessar. The King of Rohan dismounted and strode up the few steps to where the King and Queen of Gondor waited for him on a small platform. He swept a very shallow but respectful bow to Elessar. "King Elessar," Éomer's voice rang through the square like thunder and for some reason it made my muscles twitch slightly. "Well met, old friend. We have come to escort my lady sister Éowyn to her wedding to Lord Faramir, Steward of Gondor."
"Hail, Éomer King," King Elessar replied, coming to take the other man's hands in his own in what was a genuine gesture of affection, his voice almost larger than life as well. "Gondor is honored to receive our friends from the north. You and your men are always welcome friends in my hall."
There were some speeches next by King Elessar first and then Éomer and finally Faramir and Éowyn were formally presented to each other. I had intended to watch them carefully for any signs that it had been a love match, planning to tease Amrothos with it later. But they spoiled it by embracing so tenderly and staring at each other, almost doe-eyed during the whole ceremony. I might have well have teased Amrothos that the sky was blue or that he would always be shorter than King Elessar.
For some reason it made my heart hurt slightly looking at them. I had never seen two people so obviously in love and it made me kindle with a sad, distant envy.
The next morning I woke before my breakfast was sent to my room. I told Faleas not to bother heating my bath water or bringing my breakfast. I put on a light, charcoal gray cotton dress, splashed some water on my face and went down to the stables for the first time in almost seven months.
I didn't like riding. I didn't like anything I wasn't good at almost immediately. I did sort of like horses however. They had a good attitude towards the world, I felt: not overly haughty like cats and not overly friendly like dogs. Also they seemed like fairly clean animals when they were properly groomed and intelligent as well. I had once seen a horse absolutely refuse to let Amrothos mount him when he was stumbling drunk. Not many of the maids in Minas Tirith could boast those kinds of brains. And I had heard that the horses of Rohan were without comparison the best horses in the world.
I hadn't expected to be the only one who had thought to come to the stables that morning but even I was surprised by the amount of people milling around. It wasn't even fully light and already the men of Rohan were cleaning and saddling their mounts, running them around the small paddocks around the stables. And to my even greater surprise, Erchirion was standing at the far end of the hall talking with a knot of Rohirrim.
I had been momentarily embarrassed by the fact that I was the only Gondorian who had taken the trouble to come so I was relieved to effect to saunter down the length of the stables to Erchirion. "Oh!" he said when he saw me. "Hello, Lothíriel! How are you this morning?"
"Fine. And you?"
"Oh, just fine."
There was an awkward moment of silence as he looked at me, puzzled. "Well, I've come to see these famous horses of Rohan but perhaps you could introduce me to your friends first," I suggested.
That seemed to snap him back into the present. "Yes, of course, how rude of me," he said quickly. "This is my sister Lothíriel of Dol Amroth. Lothíriel this is Elfhelm, Chief Marshall of the East Mark, Eodain of the Eastern Mark and Éomer King."
I hadn't noticed the king among all his riders, most of whom were almost as strapping and blond as he was. Up close he was handsome in a strange sort of way. The fashion of the moment was very pale skin and dark, fine, delicate features. Éomer was none of those. His skin was tanned from the sun and his already bright hair was brilliant gold. His features were rough and sharp and lupine, except perhaps for his mouth which was slightly softer under his beard. But somehow I found him more appealing than the polite, dapper look of the most handsome Gondorian lords. It was compelling somehow in a way I found interesting.
I curtseyed lower to him than I had to his lords and he returned it with a polite bow and brushed a kiss across the back of my hand, in the style of Gondor. It was up to him to speak first and he said, "You honor us with your interest Princess of Dol Amroth. Are you interest in horses?"
"I can stay on a horse to be sure, my lord." I said, trying for diplomacy. "Though I would never claim to ride well to a Rohirrim." Ortoanyoneelseifitcametoit, I added silently.
"I am sure you are too modest, Princess," he said gallantly.
"I very rarely am. But if you're sure..." I said with a mocking smile.
For a moment there was a dark look on his face and I remembered, belatedly, that kings and legends rarely have senses of humor and certainly don't take to being mocked. "Yes," he said very rather stiffly.
"We were just going to go watch Éomer put Firefoot through his morning paces," Erchirion said quickly to smooth over the moment. "Why don't you come with us, Lothíriel?"
"Oh, I'd like that very much," I said. "If you don't mind that is, my lord." I added to Éomer
"Most welcome," he said, again very stiffly.
The rest of us walked to the paddock while Éomer went to saddle his horse. "The king saddles his own horse then?" I asked Éomer when he joined us.
"Every man in Rohan saddles his own horse, my lady," he replied, sounding even tarter than before. "We believe that a man who doesn't take care of his own horse doesn't deserve ride him."
His tone of voice made me want to snap. Did the women or Rohan braid their own hair? I wanted to ask. Did the mothers midwife their own births? Did the king have any squires or did he have to muck out the entire royal stable himself? Did the injured amputate their own limbs and did anyone eat anything they hadn't grown themselves?
What an absurd, pretentious tradition, I thought.
But instead I smiled serenely at him. "A man who doesn't take care of his own horse doesn't deserve to ride him." I repeated musingly. "Rohan must be a very logical place." And again Éomer seemed to catch my mocking tone and take it like a slap across the face. His features became even more firmly set.
The pretention seemed less absurd a moment later when Éomer led his horse out into the paddock and began to exercise it. Rider and horse moved together in a way I had never seen before and it was all I could do not to gape. They seemed born to do what they were doing and born to do it together. They moved as a single body through an increasingly complex series of movements that eventually involved several other riders moving together through a mock battle. Éomer seemed indifferent to the crowd watching him.
"It's quite a bit more impressive than I'd even hoped for," I remarked to Erchirion as we watched.
"I'm glad you aren't disappointed," he said with a grin.
I shook my head, a confused look spreading across my face. "How could I be? They don't even seem to be separate beings and it's as graceful as any dance."
When the horses finally tired the riders wound down and dismounted, moving back towards the stables. In spite of my earlier disdain, I was impressed that the king took the tack off his own mount. Putting it on was slightly glamorous. It let you claim that you were responsible for your own horse without ever having to touch anything sweaty. Taking the tack off seemed a little less pretentious, less like a meaningless gesture. "We would be pleased if you would join us for breakfast," Elfhelm said as we walked back to the stables. "I'm afraid it won't be anything as elegant as what you are used to," here he didn't disguise a glance in my direction, "but it will fill a hungry belly."
The sun was already high and I was accustomed to taking breakfast much earlier. Erchirion glanced at me. "Oh that would be wonderful," I said brightly.
'Less elegant than I was accustomed to' I felt was something of an understatement. The riders spread some clean hay on the ground and laid spare saddle blankets over them in the far corner of the stable. The blankets hadn't been washed recently and they were covered with hair. I'm sure I could have smelled the dirt and sweat on them if we hadn't been in the stable where the only possible smell was dung and horses. Erchirion glanced at me as I surveyed our seating arrangements but I kept my face placid. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was sit down but it was too late to back off so the best thing to do was to just make the best of it. I held out my hand and Erchirion helped me to kneel down on the blankets. I'd have to remember to apologize to Feleas later, I thought as I settled my skirts around me, trying to keep them out of the worst of the muck. I would also have to remember to take the long way so as not to pass by Amrothos' chambers smelling like I did on my way back or I would never hear the end of it.
The riders went to fetch our fare while Erchirion and I, as guests, waited.
"I was surprised to see you here this morning, Lothíriel," he said when we were alone.
"Why?" I said. "I mentioned to you at the feast I had intended to come."
He nodded. "Yes, most of the nobles will come. But later in the afternoon when there will be something of a formal tour for King Elessar. Why get up early to come alone?"
"Snobbery, I'm sure," I avowed. "I wanted a private tour."
The truth was I wasn't sure myself. Perhaps it had been all the glittering helms and the romance of the procession the night before. I wasn't a girl who was used to having her heart beat fast in her chest, not for any reason. I thought perhaps that I had wanted to confirm that it had been just a fluke. Without the grandeur of the situation—the first meeting of two Kings and friends during peace time in front of a cheering, exuberant crowd—I had been sure that I would feel nothing. But quite the contrary, the Rohirrim had seemed somehow even more impressive that morning, stripped of their finery and the ceremony of a formal welcome. I had expected to become bored, as I always did at jousts or tournaments, but I had watched for almost three hours without feeling time pass at all. A fact that I felt was oddly disconcerting.
He nodded, but looked at me with a strangely intense expression that I met with blank, docile eyes.
When the riders came back Éomer King came with them. They were bearing a large basket with a teacloth over it and a jug that proved to be coffee. I braced myself to compliment whatever came out of the basket and then to break it into small bits and pretend to eat it. But when they opened the basket the aroma that came out was heavenly. The biscuits were made with walnuts and honey and dried cherries and cooked light and fluffy but somehow filling. The coffee was strong and aromatic but not at all bitter or pungent.
I felt much better after I had drunk a little and eaten a biscuit and a half.
"You ride uncommonly well, King Éomer," I said conversationally as I sipped my coffee.
"As King of Rohan I could hardly be expected to ride poorly," he said sharply. "My lady," he added, once he realized how bluntly he had spoken.
To my surprise Erchirion spoke up on my behalf. "I think my sister meant to compliment you, my lord," he said, his voice a soft rebuke.
To my even further surprise the king looked uncomfortable. "Yes, of course. Forgive me, Lady Lothíriel. That was most ungracious of me."
That was an unexpected turn of events. Somehow I seemed to have gotten the best of the honor of the situation. Getting the best of a situation was nothing new to me but no one I sported with traded in the currency of honor. And Erchirion had defended me. Why had he done that? He knew what my reputation at court was. He had ridden with King Éomer at Pelennor fields. And I knew just from this morning that my honor was a single drop in an ocean compared to his. How was it that I had gotten tossed up on the moral high ground like a cast away?
"Nothing at all to forgive, my lord. None of us can be expected to be perfect...not before coffee at any rate," I said lightly.
It was a strange, new place for me to be—in the right that is—and I savored it so much that I didn't say much for the rest of the meal for fear that I lose my advantage.
A huge thanks to the people who reviewed to point out mistakes or tell me how much they liked the story! It is ludicrous how happy it makes me to see a new review. And a huge and special thanks to Lady Bluejay for agreeing to beta this story for me (the nicest thing that's happened to me all week).