So I'm back to get rid of some hoggish Rohirrim, plundering my stocks of food and booze. They better be warned! ;-D (If you don't understand the remark, have a look at "Visitors" if you like.)
Well, in this place just imagine the usual "all Tolkien's and the Estate's" except for the weird sidekicks.
As this is a sequel to "Choppy Waters" it might be useful to have read that story first, but I don't think it to be absolutely necessary to understand this one.
If there is any native speaker out there, knowing about grammar and commas: I would really appreciate some help. I tried to find a beta-reader via the list, but up to now in vain.
Edoras, Yavannie, 3020, Third Age
Absent-mindedly Éomer grabbed his mug of small ale, never averting his eyes from the script in front of him. In his scribe's spidery handwriting the reports from the Westfold were listed, confirming what he himself had noticed during last week's tour through that part of the realm: Though the situation still was far from splendid, there was no danger of any lack of food and housing in the coming winter. Some shortages here and there would have to be buffered, as still too few fields had been fit for sowing, but all in all they were making good progress.
The first Gondorean traders had arrived with waggons of wheat in Edoras only one week after his own return from Dol Amroth, the Gondoreans being eager to get at the pelts and woollen cloth for their great fairs before the winter might set in and make the passage through Dunharg impossible. He could not help a smirk; they must have set off as soon as the result of the negotiations had been out, well before he himself had left. Contentedly he leaned back: Rohan truly had to offer something again.
Taking up the quill, he started to tick off those of the listed villages the commissioned supplies had been sent to. The worst was fended off, and except for those lands directly bordering on the Isen, all former fields would be tilled coming spring. Deep in thought he sucked his teeth. They needed storehouses to keep the seeds from harm, and for that they needed timber.
He sighed. The lack of wood was one general problem of the Mark. True, there were forests on the mountain-slopes, but they had already been heavily exploited before the war. Not that much for firing, as peat was used by most, but for housing, the traditional way of building, reaching back to the times in the densely-wooded vales of the upper Anduin, having changed little. Building a wooden house or hall was a matter of pride and prestige. Erkenbrand had been given a lot of trouble with the uncoordinated and reckless felling of trees on the steep slopes of the Westfold Vale below Thrihyrne that brought about the danger of avalanches in winter, endangering complete settlements.
He took a hearty swig. No, he did not envy Erkenbrand, but that fellow was more than capable and had things well in hand. Nevertheless, whatever support could be sent to the Westfold should be sent there. He ran his hand through his hair. The parts north of the Fords still were severely affected … perhaps he should withdraw his people from there at least for some years till the soil had recovered from Saruman's filth. The area had been but sparely populated, so not too great a number would have to be put up somewhere else. South of the Fords settlements and even villages were denser, and with the loss of men in the war, every helping hand would be appreciated to toil the fields there, and the effort would all in all be much more promising for the people of the destroyed settlements in the northern parts of the Westfold than trying in vain to survive in the lands laid waste by the war. He just had to pay attention not to settle them outside of Erkenbrand's influence to avoid rivalries among the Lords. He chuckled. That would keep his counsellors on their toes for quite a while.
Letting pass the well known villages before his inner eye, he pondered, how many evacuees could be taken in at each place without causing problems.
Feohwic: but a small village, the complete housing intact, mostly dairy cattle … that might well be an opportunity to put up some sturdy widows.
Storwang: large fields, oats, barley, some potato and turnip fields … here men were needed, or at least half-grown boys, to do the field work.
Céapham: a large and quite prosperous village, with a regular market and a quite famous or rather infamous inn, well-frequented by the Éoreds ...
Darn! He should not have bonked that woman on his way back from Helm's Deep last week. Cursing under his breath, he shoved the parchment away and reached again for his mug, only to notice that it was empty.
Why had that plonker Éothain taken quarters there? With an angry move he pushed back his chair, nearly knocking it over. It was inept to put the blame on the captain of his guard, and he well knew. When travelling to the Westfold they had always stopped over at Céapham, and in the passing years he and Théodred had spent more than one drunken night at that inn, relishing not only the offers the cellar and kitchen did provide. It would have given cause to gossip had he avoided the inn now, and what was more: There was no other inn around for miles.
He should not have drunk that much. As quickly as the thought had formed he discarded it. He had drunk to avoid the wenches, especially Edith, once his and Théodred's favourite, a buxom honey-blonde with a fresh mouth, vulgar but witty, and remarkably lissome. He had been afraid he would think of the woman he really wanted to be with, the one he loved, being in Edith's bed and embrace, and he still was puzzled he had thought of nothing, once he had ended up there, his brain simply seeming to have evaporated.
Béma's balls, what an idiot he had been. He went over to the jug on the sideboard to refill his mug. It had been his own fault: He had not been drinking fast enough to pass out in time. So when the ribald jokes around him had started, the challenges, jibes and suggestions, and when Edith at last had stated to the roaring laughter of the other customers that the Gondorean whores had obviously sucked him dry, he had just been soused enough to rise to the challenge quite literally. He could as well not pretend to have been totally drunk, as he had still been well able to perform and even had had enough wits left to pull out in time. He snorted. That would be the last thing he was looking forward too: His bastards running around by the dozen, though he well expected the women at the inn to take precautions.
How could it be that he had felt so completely off balance? He could not even claim that he had acted to ease his body's tension, as he had not lusted after Edith, nor felt the urge for some romp in general, he had just felt provoked. No, he could not blame it on Éothain, as much as he would have liked to, it had simply been his dratted male pride.
He shook his head and sat down at his desk, pulling the list close again, but instead of resuming his work, his gaze went to the sunlit square of the window. What if he had resisted? The whistles and applauding roars as he had swept the wench off her feet had shown what his men had expected him to do, but he had not even felt satisfied when he had finally jerked off, but rather as if he had accomplished some duty. Théodred's duty of old. The leader to prove his virility.
Remembering that feeling was nauseating. Never before had he lain with a woman without feeling passion, without the urge to give himself, the need to feel the woman's response. What if the Valar punished him for it? What if he would drag that numbness into his marital bed? How could he have bedded a woman without thinking of his betrothed? With a pang of self-loathing he realized he was avoiding to even think her name, lest she be affected by his deadheartedness.
Did she expect him to stay celibate? He looked into his mug, as if the answer might be found at its bottom. She had three elder brothers, so surely she knew … He put the mug down with an angry thud. He had to stop fooling himself. This was not about a man's urge, it was about his fear that his leadership might be inadequate. He gritted his teeth. This had to end! He might be King of the Mark, but he would not allow kingship to govern his bed. He had performed as they expected, but by Béma, that was not to happen again!
"Éomer?" The head of his friend and Captain of the Guard Éothain poked through the opened door. "There's a group of craftsmen and some messenger from Dol Amroth to see you."
Seeing the king's enquiring look, Éothain shook his head. "No, not the usual bloke. If I remember correctly he had been Erchirion's squire during the war. Don't ask me why he acts the messenger now. Maybe it's something crucial and Imrahil did not trust it to any ordinary carrier."
For a split second Éomer felt the blood leave his head. Béma, how fast could gossip travel? But then he braced himself. No way Imrahil or anyone in Dol Amroth could know by now about Céapham, and if they did and took offence, he would have to tough it out. He would not back off. Rising from his desk, he raked through his hair with both hands and followed his friend to the hall.
As soon as he entered, he spotted the small group of Gondoreans, his attention being especially drawn towards a tall grey-bearded man, standing at the forefront. While the others deferently lowered their heads at the entrance of Rohan's king, the grey-beard paid him no heed at all, being absorbed in the inspection of the rich carvings on the wooden columns and beams, and even when Éomer had already stepped onto the dais, he continued his examination, even tugging his neighbour's sleeve, pointing up to some special joint in the timber-work of the ceiling. Finally being made aware by his highly embarrassed neighbour that the king was present, the man turned towards Éomer, giving him but a short appraising look, and then glanced back once more at the intricate carvings, a mixture of admiration and regret in his eyes, before he finally bowed respectfully.
Now a young man in the colours of Dol Amroth stepped forward, and bending his knee, he presented the king with a very formal-looking scroll of vellum, the official seal with Imrahil's coat of arms affixed to it. No doubt it was Anardil, Erchirion's squire.
Breaking the seal, Éomer unrolled the parchment and swiftly scanned it. A through and through official document. Skipping the circuitous addressing and long-winded display of titles, he pried for the virtual message, trying to show absolute composure, while he felt his heart beating in his throat. He read … blinked … read again and still found it hard to believe, yet there it was, written in the ornamental script they preferred in Gondor, sealed not only with Imrahil's signet but as well with the princess' flower-framed swan:
At the request of the revered Princess Lothíriel of Dol Amroth her Lord Father, Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth and the Grand Council licensed the access to her dowry ahead of schedule. As a token of her deeply-felt care and consideration for her prospective realm and people, the revered Princess ordered the marriage portion to be used for the construction and establishment of granaries in all those parts of Rohan her Lord and King of Rohan, Éomer Son of Éomund sees in need of such. For that purpose the best timber of Dor-en-Ernil shall be provided and Master Calimab, recognised master-carpenter and shipwright …
Éomer tried hard not to let his inner turmoil show on his face. Timber! Timber for granaries. Where had she got the idea from? Who had told her? Had he mentioned anything like that to her? He was not sure, yet … this was splendid! Exactly what was needed, and yet he could not help feeling disappointed. Why hadn't she told him? Written at least some private note? He upbraided himself. Here and now was not the place to ponder about that. Lowering the letter, he looked up, meeting Anardil's expectant glance. Smiling he nodded to the young man. "That is indeed a generous gift, and a most welcome one, too."
Nodding dismissal to the messenger, he approached the old man, who bowed solemnly in the Gondorean way at his approach, his right hand over his heart.
"So you are Master Calimab?"
Raising his head, the grey-beard smiled. "Yes, my Lord King, that I surely am."
"They praise your work in this missive."
"Ah, do they?" The old man just shrugged dismissively. "What do they know about real craft and art, art that combines the beauty and nature of the wood and the technique and accuracy of a devoted artist." His eyes twinkling brightly, he pointed at the carved beams of the wooden ceiling. "That, my lord is what I call true art, as it enshrines the very soul of the living wood."
Was that old carpenter just glib-tongued or open-hearted? Éomer was not sure about it and decided to turn to business. "Well, Master Calimab, so what about that granaries the princess has commissioned?"
The old man nodded. "Come here, my lord and let me show you." He went over to one of the long tables, and only now did Éomer spot the small stack of vellum on it. Taking the upmost one and laying it in front of the king, the old man eyed him expectantly. "That, my lord, is the kind of building I was told to construct."
Amazed Éomer stared at the sketch the vellum displayed: a béowbur, one of the solid wooden storehouses typical of the Mark with its large beams at each corner that gave the impression as if the whole building was standing on stilts of two feet length, the stairs leading up to the main floor disconnected to keep mice and rats out, the characteristic low door to the cubic main room that in general was used as a granary, topped by a slightly larger room that kept the lower walls from heavy rains and covered by a shake roof. The sketch was done masterly in silver point on slightly roughened vellum.
"I'm not sure if I caught it exactly in every detail, but it is was I guessed from Prince Erchirion's description of what he had seen in Rohan." A faint smile played around the old man's lips. "He even tried to sketch it for me, but I have to admit it took him several attempts till I understood what he meant"
Without a word Éomer took the sketch and held it out to his counsellors, who had by now assembled in the hall. Appreciating murmurs rose all around as they eyed the drawing. Only Eáldread, the chief counsellor, shook his head doubtfully. "Even if Dol Amroth provided the timber, it will take a lot of time to construct as many buildings as are needed."
Totally unperturbed the master carpenter pointed at the second sketch. "Every single beam and plank is marked, and my men are well-trained. Twelve men can erect such a granary in half a day, once the stone basis is laid, and I brought the complete first one already with me. If a messenger sets out for Dol Amroth tomorrow, the next ten granaries can be here within a fortnight, followed by at least three more every week as long as the pass stays open. Each of my men can lead a group of local carpenters and builders, so we can work simultaneously in different places."
"But the wood!" The old counsellor was not easily deterred. "That will need quite a lot of timber, and of suitable quality, especially for the shakes. What do you use? Larch?"
The carpenter shook its head. "No, the princess insisted on cedar wood."
"What?" Eáldread's voice seemed to have risen two octaves. Éomer needed all his self-control not to laugh out loud.
The old carpenter nodded, visibly enjoying himself. "Cedar wood," he affirmed, "the best the Land of the Prince can provide."
After a moment of stunned silence everyone in the hall started to talk excitedly at the same time.
"My lord." Master Calimab gave him a wink. "Would you like to have a look at the timber?"
Five smallish wains, well apt for the steep and narrow mountain paths down from Dunharrow, stood in the lower yard, covered with strapped canvas. At a sign of Master Calimab two of the carters hurried to remove the covering and revealed a load of beams and planks, tightly packed, each marked with a sign to tell its place in the construction. Éomer stepped close and touched the smooth, honey-coloured timber, and out of their own volition his fingers traced the reddish veins in the beam below his hand. Cedar wood … Gondorean timber to store the grain of the Mark. How much pain she had taken to do exactly the fitting thing. His Queen, his Lothíriel. How he wished to have her at his side this very moment, to feel her, taste her... Her swallowed hard. Six more months till she came, but her name and her care would be known beforehand throughout the Mark, the cedar wood granaries being her token.
Reluctantly he tore his gaze from the warm-coloured wood and turned to the carpenter. "It is wonderful timber and excellent work, Master Calimab. As soon as you feel able to go on, this shall be transported to the Westfold, the part of the realm that has suffered most. The first of the Queen's granaries shall be built in the Westfold Vale. And I shall ride with you to see it being built."
The old carpenter smiled and nodded. "Very well, my lord King. Give me a night's rest and I'll be ready to travel on in the morning. But as I see you indeed appreciate the princess' idea, may I draw your attention to something?"
Surprised Éomer nodded, and with his smile deepening, the carpenter unwrapped a beam that had been packed separately. "The princess herself designed this and ordered me to show it to you. It is to be the browpiece of this and each following granary, if you like it. If you don't, I can as well put in a plain beam or add a carving to your liking."
Intrigued Éomer stepped up to look over the grey-beard's shoulder. The beam was almost completely red with only thin streaks of lighter-coloured wood at the edges, and its centre featured a set of carvings: the swan of Dol Amroth and the horse of the Mark facing each other, framed by the very flowers shown in Lothíriel's signet, but behind each flower three ears of barley could be seen. He swallowed hard, his mind in a haze. The carvings were excellently done, the message clear to every Rohirrim … but had she known what she did when she combined the symbol of fertility with her personal token?
"My lord." Anardil's low voice interrupted his pondering. Turning to face the young man, Éomer found him standing close, holding out a small, flat and beige object to him. Taking it, he realised what it was: paper, something more than rare in the Mark, but as he had seen, quite commonly used in Gondor. Twisting it in his fingers, he eyed the seal at its back and his heart sped up: the seal of Dol Amroth, flanked by two flowers. In a rush he broke the seal, forgetting everything around him, craving for what the letter might hold like a starving man for a fresh loaf of bread. Unfolding the paper, he drank in the sight of her handwriting: clear, well-rounded letters, bold but orderly written, and by the mere sight of it he felt a trace of her personality smile at him. Smoothing the folds, he started to read, a soothing kind of warmth rising within him, filling him with joy as he took in her words.
I have worded this letter over and over in my mind these last days, but still found no convincing way to phrase my intention. So just let me explain, let me talk to you, like you were present.
When you are reading this, you will have seen my present, read the official letter Father had the scribes draft. I wish I could see your face. Do you frown? Do you smile? I do not know, though I am certain that at least you will be prepared to listen to me, to let me explain.
That day, in the garden, after that lecturing of my father's counsellors, you said that Rohan's people as well might see me as some extra-benefit to the trade agreements. You did not put it in such words, but we both know what was said and what was meant. It was then that I made up my mind not to let anyone put me into a chest labelled: "Gondorean Princess, high nobility, decorative but otherwise useless".
I wanted to do something special, something to be connected with my name in a positive way, something that announced my coming to Rohan in a useful manner, even before I had crossed the borders. You may call that calculating, or in a more polite wording diplomatic, and certainly there is more than just a drop of politics in it, but nevertheless it is as well something personal, something I carefully thought over, investigated and finally had constructed.
I talked to Erchirion, to Father, to Elphir who had been present at the negotiations, and perhaps it comes to your mind now that I even asked you the very last day before you left, trying to work out what Rohan might need and appreciate that could be provided by Dol Amroth through me. It very soon became clear that Rohan had but little woods, construction timber thus being something highly demanded, especially now, with so many homes being destroyed. And it was you who told me about storage problems, though it was just in some kind of half-sentence, a worried remark amongst a lot of hopeful statements concerning Rohan's future.
So the idea took root to have granaries built, in the style of the Mark but with timber from Gondor. Having already been in the Mark, Erchirion provided a sketch of such a building and Master Calimab assured me to be well able to construct it, though the base would have to be built in stone on-site in Rohan. He suggested to use cedar wood as it has the boon not only to be beautiful and lasting timber, but to keep vermin out as well.
What I have sent you now is the material to set up a first granary, and if you approve of it, the building and my plan that is, there shall be one in every village of the Mark that needs one, before the winter sets in. Father and Elphir calculated that it can be achieved, as mainly the Westfold would be in need, and Master Calimab is ready to stay in Rohan to supervise the instruction of carpenters.
It is so difficult to write all this without seeing your reaction. I was so excited all the time, but now, as everything is packed and they are due to leave for Edoras tomorrow morning, doubt falls so heavily on me.
Perhaps I should have asked you, should have informed you, I know that you would have spoken ingenuously to me, but I wanted to show you and your people that I am aware of their paramount needs. I hope I have done the right thing.
Lothíriel of Dol Amroth
Having read the letter, he looked up like a man woken in the middle of a dream, his gaze sweeping once more over the beam in front of him, the smooth surface, the carvings... Béma, what would he give to have her at his side this very moment, his pirate princess, his love.
Suppressing a sigh, he made to fold the letter, when his eye caught a postscript in tiny letters, low in the left-hand corner of the paper, just were his thumb had been. Holding his breath he read, torn between joy and longing:
I wish I could go
where this letter
Yavannie: (Quenya) approximately our September
Dor-en-Ernil (Quenja) Land of the Prince; Prince Imrahil's realm
béow: (Old English) barley
bur: (Old English) small house
béowbur is a word-construction of my own; if you want to know what I had on my mind, have a look on the net for a Norwegian stabbur. (Oh, and not to forget: Traditionally in the old Norwegian farmsteads or villages, the stabbur was the place where a serious courtship started.) ;-)
cedar wood: I had the Lebanon Cedar on my mind, the timber being referred to in several antique and medieval texts as being easy to work on, beautifully coloured and very durable, which made it sought after for building houses as well as ships.