Éomer woke, confused about where he was and what had woken him, his mind still lingering in the embrace of a dream. The plains... It took him a moment to realise that he was not out in the open, but in his bed at Meduseld. A slight breeze drifted in through the open windows, heavy with the smell of honeysuckle. The end of May was near and soon spring would give way to summer. The end of May... Any day now they were expecting the news from Emyn Arnen, announcing Éowyn's delivery. His little sister would be a mother... perhaps already was a mother.
He turned over to pull his wife close and try to go to sleep again only to find Lothíriel's side of the bed empty. Obviously she had risen to go to the privy and her stirring had caused him to wake. He could not help a grin, imagining how she would come back soon, and slipping under the covers would snuggle up to him for his body heat. The nights were still coolish, and he knew how much she hated the cold.
Perhaps pretending to be asleep, just to see what she would do, was not a bad idea at all. He stretched, and reaching for her pillow, buried his face in it, inhaling the smell of her hair that clung to it. I left my smell on your pillow... Béma, she had really made things hard, writing him letters like that. He sighed contentedly. How could life provide such bliss? They had been married for not fully three months yet, but the changes that had taken place in his life were profound.
Never before had he felt this content and optimistic. And it was that optimism that was the most stunning change. It was not that he did things differently from how he had done them before nor did the problems he had to deal with differ at all, but where in the past he had faced his and the Mark's future with stubborn endurance and a feeling of duty, he now felt joy and eagerness. With Lothíriel at his side he could not only do what was necessary for the Mark, they would also be able to change and better things.
He knew well enough that as much as she liked living in the Mark there were things she was not content with, but she was intelligent enough not to throw her opinion in the people's face. As far as that went she was very much like Éowyn...and as far as gardening went, too. It was a pity that they had not been able to make their tour of the Eastfold while the small tulips of the steppe had been blooming on the downs of the Eastemnet, but Aragorn had been right with his suggestion to better use the fact that the lords of the Riddermark had been present at Edoras for general negotiations. More so, as a certain tension between the different fractions had been perceptible under the thin layer of politeness during the days of the wedding festivities.
He knew that despite the considerable support from Gondor not all lords of the Mark were convinced their king was doing the right thing, though few would utter their discontent openly. There were those who were miffed about him taking a Gondorean wife while they had daughters of marriageable age. Éomer saw little possibilities of appeasing them, save to make them realise that he had married for love and not for political calculation, but he did not fool himself: No matter how obvious his love for his queen was, to the great amusement of the lower ranks, those lords and most probably their daughters too would only see what they wanted to see and would be difficult to sway. Fortunately they were but a small group anyway.
Of much more importance were those who feared Gondorean influences on the ways of the Mark. With them it certainly helped that Gondor's king spoke their language. And it paid off that Aragorn and Imrahil had come with an entourage of Gondorean warriors who had fought side by side with the Eorlingas on the Pelennor and in front of the Black Gate. Not to talk about Erchirion, who had merged into his Éored over the last months with utmost dedication in all aspects, save the language.
Éomer could not grasp that his friend and brother still had picked up so little of the language of the Mark. How could it be that siblings differed that profoundly? While Erchirion, though he had quite a large vocabulary, was not able to utter more than basic phrases, Lothíriel spoke nearly fluently. When they had been closeted with Eáldread, preparing for the first council meeting Lothíriel had been supposed to participate in as Queen of the Mark, she had insisted in them talking the language of the Mark to her, thus giving her a chance to find out if she was able to understand them.
Éomer grinned, remembering Eáldread and himself staring at each other with open mouths when she had commented on their statements in Rohirric, not only making clear that she had understood, but even using the correct phrasing and register when stating her opinion. She still worked regularly on her language skills with the help of Beorhtraed and old Maerec. Only during their three sennights out on the plains had she skipped her lessons, but even then she had shown her interest, picking up typical expressions and phrases concerning the herds. And had not Lady Mildred told him that she encouraged her ladies to sing the old songs and teach her the lyrics while they were assembled with their needlework in the queen's solar? The lyrics, not the melody.
Éomer chuckled, remembering his utter surprise when he had found out that Lothíriel could not sing the most simple song staying in tune. She did not play any instrument either, despite Dol Amroth being famous for her harpists. She liked songs and she loved music, and the smile that flitted over her face when she heard the jubilating tunes of the fiddle were certainly genuine, but her own practical skills were definitely non-existent.
That could have been a severe handicap to a people whose traditions were mainly passed on in song, but Lothíriel had found the right way to deal with it with that uncanny knack of hers. She had never tried to hide her inability, mocking herself and at the same time expressing her regret. This frankness had earned her the open sympathy and even admiration of the commoners, though it had also led to another verse being added to the bawdy hymns on the royal couple.
The queen she cannot sing in tune
The King he doesn't huff
For when at night he's shagging her
She's singing well enough.
It had earned the young Rider who had been caught teaching it to the stable lads three weeks of latrine duty in the barracks. Éomer had been informed by Éothain, who had known as usual, and it had cost him quite an amount of self-restraint to abstain from giving the twit a good thrashing.
Remembering, he folded his arms behind his head. He was sure Lothíriel knew about the songs, as she very fast had managed to gather a close circle of reliable people who would inform her about everything going on. Lady Mildred had been the first of the ladies to support her and the old counsellor's wife still was the closest of the noble women of Edoras to her while Frithuswith had a leading function as far as the commoners were concerned.
Though gradually dropping out of the practical running of the royal household with Ymma stepping into her place without any fuss, Frithuswith was still involved with everything concerning the queen. Éomer stretched contentedly, grinning at the thought of how well his wife and the trusted housekeeper got on together. And he felt that Frithuswith finally got the love and care she deserved for having dealt it out freely to not only the royal family throughout her long life.
Her dress had been ready in April, and the last week of that month Master Calimab had come back to Edoras in the company of his eldest grandson, determined to show the Dragon of Meduseld that love knew no age. She had looked splendid in dove-grey, and Éomer had been surprised how the colour underlined her features and bearing. That old Greybeard certainly had known why he had selected that hue. She had been a beautiful and proud bride, and that Gondorean peacock had beamed as if he had won the prize of his life which according to Éomer's opinion he certainly had.
It had been a splendid feast, as Éomer had been generous with food and ale for all of Edoras, and the kitchen staff had decked their marital bed with flowers, nearly causing the battle-steeled captain of Meduseld's kitchen to cry with emotion.
And then Lothíriel and he had been off to the Eastfold. He grinned, remembering the sensation of riding at her side, galloping over the plains. How that woman sat a horse! He felt the familiar tightening in his groin at the thought of her muscular thighs, her laughter as she sped forward, bending low over her gelding's neck, outrunning Firefoot to the amazement and admiration of his guard. Éomer snorted. That dratted guard had been the only drop of bitterness in his cup of bliss. How he would have liked to ride off with her, out into the vastness of the plains, down to some streamlet to drink after a demanding race, and then to have her there on the mossy banks in a no less demanding way.
Nothing of that was to come true with a guard of twelve around them. He sighed. The journey had been pleasant nevertheless. Lothíriel had been delighted at the sight of the herds, and the herders had been proud to have the royal couple in their camps. The only thing that had puzzled him was how tired Lothíriel had been in the evenings. And not only in the evenings, for more than once he had caught her napping as soon as they took a break or stayed at a camp at noon. Not that he had any reasons to complain, quite the contrary, for she had always woken with him as early as sunrise to give him a very convincing proof that she had recovered and regained her strength and therefore he had never bothered to mention his surprise to her. But thinking of it... There had been some moments of uncertainty amongst them, moments when he had had the feeling she was about to tell him something that occupied her mind, but she never said anything. He raked his teeth through his moustache. Perhaps he was seeing things, being overprotective as Éowyn had always accused him of.
For the first part of the journey Gytha had been with them as they had accompanied the girl to her mother in the Wold, Gytha being determined to select the sheep whose fleeces she saw fit to be used for her Bryd Baelc. She would stay for the shearing and then go back to Aldburg to card and spin before taking up the weaving next winter. She had made up her mind to weave a blanket entirely in different shades of blue, an idea sparked off by the coloured chalks Winfrid had sent. Lady Geliris had promised to help her find the appropriate colours, once she had returned to Gondor, and she had also taken it upon her to see that Gytha's thank-you note would reach Winfrid. He smiled, recalling the genuine friendliness with which Lothíriel's mother had treated his daughter and how eager the girl had been to please her.
A blackbird started his song in one of the bushes outside. Éomer yawned. Dawn did not seem to be too far away. One more month, and they would be visiting the Westfold, though perhaps he should change his plans and go earlier, as Lady Egefride had made clear that she would appreciate getting rid of Airik as soon as possible. And certainly Lothíriel would not mind going a month earlier. Had not she herself pointed out the importance to contact the Dunland villagers as soon as possible to negotiate on the trade of that high-quality salt? And he had to admit it would do him good to see that Airik's little girl really had thrived as much as Lady Egefriede said. It would certainly lay some ghosts to rest. The only thing he wanted to wait for was news from Éowyn...
He had thought not to stop at Céapham but rather take tents with them so they could stay where they wanted on their own, but he would talk about that with Lothíriel, as he was not sure if she perhaps had other plans. His champion on the battlefield of diplomacy... She was to decide whether she felt up to staying in the quarters at the inn and facing Edith. And he was not certain if she might not take it as a challenge and a chance to demonstrate her power as his queen and wife. She had given quite an example of her powers at Aldburg.
… Sweat trickling down his nose, his brow, seeping into his eyes, causing his sight to blur. Sweat covering his entire body like a liquid sheet, making the hilt of the practise-sword slippery despite the leather taping. Thrust, parry... Béma that man is good! Cries from the audience, blurred at the outer edge of his perception as his entire being is concentrated on the fight.
And then his one and only chance, as the other one loses his footing, stumbles, opens his defence for but a split second. A quick thrust...
They had stood panting for a moment, and he had felt his fingers tremble when he had opened the straps of his helmet. What a fighter and what a fight! He had grinned at his opponent, a young man from the Fenmark who had approached Éothain, eager to be taken into the king's service, and who had blushed as the king had slapped his shoulder under the deafening applause of the audience.
Dust had been sticking to Éomer's sweating skin as he had walked over to where his queen had sat on the fence of the practise ground, and when he had reached her she had slid down, an unreadable expression on her face. Unreadable... But he had felt the tension radiating from her body... So close she had been... and the fierceness of the fight still pounding through his veins. And then she had looked him right into the eye and the world around him had fallen away. Slate-grey pools, fathomless and filled with desire...nay, hunger... raw, demanding hunger in an otherwise motionless face.
Seconds had stretched to eternities as he had bathed in these pools, hardly able to control his possessive pride, the urge to have her there and then. His warrior with the creamy skin, his queen of the challenge!
"I'll be waiting for you in our rooms." A hoarse whisper, and she had turned away, her head held high, her shoulders squared, her steps powerful and determined, an image of regal pride.
"Sire? Éomer?" Éothain's voice had woken him out of his trance, and wordlessly he had motioned to his friend to help him out of mail and gambeson, had thrown a handful of water into his face and had followed her, not caring for anything that had been going on around him.
When he had opened the door to their room she had been standing there, waiting for him, and the moment he had shoved home the bolt, her robe had slid to the floor, and then she had been in his arms, tearing at his sweat-soaked shirt, stammering out her desire. He never knew how he had got out of his clothes, there had been no thought, no reason left, as the flames of passion enveloped him, them. There had been no tenderness, no time for it, no reason for it as she had flung herself prostrate on the bed, spreading her thighs, begging him to fill her.
Sweat trickling down his nose, his brow, covering his entire body, making his hands slippery... Her voice... moaning, wailing, begging... Egging him on beyond exhaustion... And then bliss, nothing but ultimate bliss as he tumbles over the brink of passion, taking her with him.
He had come to, feeling the soft breeze on his sweat-covered body, and looking up his gaze had fallen on the window, left open by the servants to let the air of the sunny day warm their room.
They had departed for Edoras the next morning and not stayed long enough to find out what new songs were circulating at Aldburg, but it had cost everyone quite some willpower not to stare when they had turned up in the hall for lunch. But where people had tried to hide their grin when looking at their king, there had been admiration bordering on awe in their eyes when they had looked at Lothíriel.
The throbbing of his erection brought him back to reality, and he stretched with a groan. His wife... tender and fierce, loving and demanding. Béma, he needed her! Confused, he propped himself up on his elbow. What was taking her so long? Could there be anything wrong? Trying to ignore the feeling of unease, he rose and made for the dressing room. There was no noise and when he opened the door, he found the room dark and empty. Hurrying back to the bedroom, he lit a candle to have a closer look. Nothing. He felt the hairs on his nape raise and then he noticed that while her robe was still lying at the foot of the bed his was missing. Could she have gone outside, having become used to the open night skies of the plains to have a look at the stars? He dismissed the idea immediately but having donned breeches and shirt, he went to check nevertheless. She would have used the door in the solar that led out onto the small terrace above the garden, had she really wanted to go outside. But he found the door locked, the key on its peg on the wall. Cursing under his breath, he went back to the corridor. He did not believe she would have taken the side door had she wanted to go outside and he did not want to pass by the guards' room further down the corridor. Perhaps the hall? At least it was a possibility. Opening the door that led to the hall, he at once spotted Acwuld, one of the older men of his guard.
"Sire?" Acwuld sprang to attention, but Éomer waved him off.
"Have you seen the queen come through here?"
"The queen?" Acwuld looked flummoxed. "Certainly not, Sire." Pointing at the clock candle, he added: "I took over nearly three hours ago, and during my watch she has not been in the hall." He gave Éomer a queerish look. "Have you checked in the kitchen, Sire?"
"The kitchen?" Now it was Éomer's turn to look flabbergasted. Why should she have gone down to the kitchen? Could she not just send for a servant if she wanted something from the kitchen? But he felt in no mood to discuss the queen's behaviour with one of his guards. Nodding his thanks, he retreated to the royal quarters, checking if Lothíriel had come back in the meantime before making his way along the corridor towards the narrow staircase that connected the royal quarters directly with the kitchens on the northern side of the hill. It was normally used by the servants, bringing up food to the royal chambers, but feeling the cold stones of the steps under his bare feet, he remembered how many times he had sneaked down into the warm kitchen as a boy, as much for some extra food as for the soothing comfort of Frithuswith's straightforward care. But what could have caused Lothíriel to go down to the kitchen? If she had gone there at all.
He passed through a kind of anteroom of the kitchens, where trays and other means of carriage were stored on shelves along the walls and where now the kitchen boys were sleeping on pallets that only left a quite narrow passage towards the kitchen door. Opening it, he at once noticed that there were people about, and crossing the room in front of him, he peeked through the archway that led into the main room with the hearth.
Ymma was standing at the hearth, busy with something in a smallish pan from which rose the smell of fried meat, and at the large work-table nearby sat Lothíriel, wrapped up in his robe, one knee tucked up under her chin, a variety of plates, jars and dishes in front of her.
"Here you are, Hláefdige." With a flourish Ymma set the pan on the table, giving the queen what Éomer could only describe as a conspiratorial grin. "Just a minute, and I'll have some roasted bread ready to go with it."
"Thank you, Ymma. That's just what I need."
With nimble fingers Lothíriel fished a small meatball out of the pan and having blown at it to cool it down a bit, she popped it into her mouth before reaching for one of the bowls with cubes of sheep cheese. Éomer's jaw slackened. He had worried what might have befallen his wife, and here she was, gay as a lark, stuffing her face in the middle of the night. Why had she not woken him up? Was it perhaps not the first time she had sneaked off to the kitchen and Acwuld knew and therefore had looked that strangely at him? Éomer was at a loss. He went a few steps closer without either of the two women noticing him. Ymma put the roasted bread on the table.
"Is there anything else you would like to eat, Hláefdige?"
Lothíriel shook her head, munching happily. "No, thank you Ymma. I know it's unreasonable to make you cook meatballs in the middle of the night, but..."
Ymma's laughter interrupted her. "Lothíriel Cwen, it's a pleasure to be able to make you feel comfortable."
Lothíriel grinned. "Well, in that case... Could it be that there still are some of those pickled peppers? Or at least any other pickles? I feel I could kill for some."
"Then I should better have a look." Chuckling, Ymma went to one of the shelves. "Here you are. Pickled peppers and there is also some of that sea aster honey from Dol Amroth."
Lothíriel made a squealing sound. "Splendid! A taste of home!"
Éomer swallowed. A taste of home... And he had thought she was happy at his side. At his side and in the Mark. And here she was, obviously homesick and trying to keep that fact from him. Had that been the thing she had not told him during their journey through the Eastemnet? All of a sudden he felt cold and sick, not knowing how to react. He had better retreat quietly before she noticed him. He would talk to Frithuswith in the morning, perhaps they could find a solution, a way to help her. Slowly moving backwards, he only noticed the stool in his way when he banged into it, causing it to topple over.
"Éomer?" Another meatball in her hand, Lothíriel stared at him, blushing profoundly.
Wordlessly he walked up to her and sat down at the table. He felt disappointed that she had not told him about her feelings, but seeing her embarrassment, he could not help the urge to ease her discomfort. He reached for her free hand, and stroking it he asked: "Why did you not tell me, Lothíriel?"
Before she could answer, Ymma cleared her throat. "If you do not need me any more, Éomer King, Lothíriel Queen..."
Lothíriel shook her head. "No, thank you Ymma."
They waited until Ymma had left the kitchen, and then Éomer repeated his question. "Why? If I had known, I could have tried to help you, Dear. Made things easier for you, perhaps I..."
She snorted. "The only thing you would have done is to fuss over me and try to pamper me."
"And what's wrong about that? You are my wife. What is wrong with a husband mollycoddling his wife? What..."
With a fast movement she shoved the meatball between his teeth. "I suppose there is nothing wrong with it, Éomer. Nothing except the fact that I do not like being mollycoddled. And I would have told you in a few days anyway." She smiled a bit sheepishly and reached for one of the peppers.
He swallowed the meatball and heaved a breath. "Who knows, except Ymma, that is?"
She shrugged and dipped the pickle into the honey-jar. "Frithuswith. Some others might suspect, but I only talked to Frithuswith and she advised me to take Ymma into my confidence."
Saucer-eyed Éomer watched his wife licking the honey off the pepper and then biting off the tip of the hot pickle and munching it contentedly. Seeing him stare, she shrugged. "I know it's a bit strange. But Frithuswith told me to eat what I fancied and not to waste thoughts whether it's appropriate or not. So I do, and it makes me feel good." She tilted her head and grinned at him. "And don't you worry. I won't ask you to eat pickles with honey or cheese with liquorice."
"Cheese with liquorice?" Béma, what an incredible combination! He could not help a shudder.
"That's what I had last night." Her smile was certainly mischievous now, her eyes sparkling with mirth. At least she seemed to have overcome her fit of homesickness, and if it really made her feel better he would put up with his wife eating weird and rather disgusting combinations of food in the middle of the night. He gently pulled her close, kissing the tip of her ear that stuck out from the tussle of her hair.
"Anything you want, Love. But please, don't sneak out of the room again without waking me. I was really worried when I woke up and found you gone."
She snuggled into his chest. "Promise. I did not want to trouble you. I just did not expect you to wake up. I mean, you didn't yesterday."
"Was that the first time you went to the kitchen?"
She nodded. "Acwuld was walking along the corridor to take his post in the hall and he looked a bit unsettled, so I told him I was going to the kitchen."
Éomer nodded. That certainly explained the guard's behaviour. He looked down into her face. Nothing gave a hint at any unease or nostalgia, quite the contrary. She looked healthy, contented, a happy smile curling the corners of her mouth as she nuzzled into his shirt. She yawned. "I suppose we had better go to bed. There will be a meeting with a delegation of merchants from Dol Amroth tomorrow morning and I promised Ealhild the weaver to be present."
"Merchants from Dol Amroth? Will you be up to it, Dear?"
She sat up straight and rolled her eyes. "Men! What did I say? You will fuss! And here you are."
He frowned. He knew she was absolutely right, but he could not help worrying. "Look, Lothíriel, I know it would be more than helpful for our weavers if you were present at the negotiations. But I do not want you to be exposed to..."
Lothíriel laughed out loud. "Uinen's sweet mercy, Éowyn told me you are a high-handed and over-protective... "
"I don't care what she said, Lothíriel." His voice was clipped. That sister of his! Though he had to admit that perhaps he was just a bit too protective. But was not his wife his responsibility? In a softer tone he continued: "I only ask you to consider if dealing with people from Dol Amroth might not increase your homesickness."
"My...what?" Never had he seen her that dumbfounded. "Homesickness? Are you out of your mind?"
Now it was his turn to look dumbfounded. "But you said you wanted "a taste of home".
"And that makes me homesick? Éomer!" She nearly choked with laughter. "Goodness, how homesick poor Erchirion must have been then when he begged Frithuswith on his knees for some chilli-sauce."
"He was drunk, and you know that."
"He certainly was." She giggled. "But I bet you, even if he had been homesick, you would not even have thought about making such a fuss." Twisting her face to the most conceited expression, she literally looked down her nose till she nearly squinted. "So shall I assume that the welfare of my dear brother does not move your barbarian warrior's heart?"
"May I remind you that I'm not married to Erchirion?" Relieved that she obviously was happy and content, he fell in with her banter. "But why in Béma and Erce's name are you wandering the halls and corridors of Meduseld at night, Hláefdige min, rummaging its stores and kitchens for … rather unusual combinations of food, to say the least?"
She blushed and shrugged. "Ravenousness I suppose. I can't explain. I think of the food, or I smell it... Sometimes I just imagine smelling it, and then I have to get it."
He stared. He had not noticed such behaviour with her before. Sure, she had been tasting dishes, now and then when they were offered to her, and he remembered that she had sampled tasty morsels at any camp-fire out on the plains, but that certainly was different from standing up in the middle of the night to... Seeing her embarrassed look, he decided it did not matter, and he told her so, causing her to smile wryly.
"I know it is just a superstition, Éomer, but I feel so strange about it. I just don't want to take the risk."
Immediately he was alerted. What could cause his pirate queen to back away from any risk? He gently took her hands. "Tell me about it, will you?"
"You promise not to laugh?"
He kissed the tip of her nose. "Promise."
"Well..." Again she shrugged. "The people of Dol Amroth call it the "Scent". They believe that if a pregnant woman desires a particular food and does not get at least a bite, a taste of it, it can affect the unborn child."
His heart skipped a beat as her words sunk in. Could it be...? He did not dare to ask, lest it was another misunderstanding. But he needed to know.
She met his gaze and simply nodded. "I meant to tell you at the end of the month. I wanted to be sure and my next cycle would be due then."
He heaved a breath to calm himself. "So you are not sure yet?"
"I am sure, Éomer. But I was not sure if I could be sure..." She stopped, as if realising what she had said and laughed. "I'm sorry, Éomer. I must sound like an idiot. But Mereth told me not to be too certain if I miss my bleeding, because a lot of things might cause some irregularities in my cycle: the journey, the different climate... So I waited and told myself not to expect too much. But I'm sure at last."
He felt strange. As if it was not him being told he would be a father, and suddenly the fear that all this was a dream seized him. It had to be a dream. And he would wake up in a cold bed and find that these last months had been nothing but a dream.
"Éomer? She was clearly worried, not knowing what to make of his strange behaviour.
"Pinch me, so I know I'm not dreaming."
Her fingers got hold of some skin on his forearm, and with a determined movement she twisted it mercilessly. Éomer grimaced with pain and then he simply hauled her off her chair and into his arms.
"So when... I mean since when have you been thinking..."
She nestled up against him."I was quite sure at the end of March. My cycles were always very regular and I had the last one the days before I left Minas Tirith. I was afraid I might be forced to ride with... Well, it's rather uncomfortable, you know? But everything went well."
"At the end of March?" His heart was in his mouth. "But that means..."
Laughing she wrapped her arms around him. "That means the stable-master of Edoras will be able to collect quite a nice sum and the people will sing about Éomer Éadig, the warrior-king who knows how to wield his spear."
The "scent" is a superstition that really exists in Greece (at least it did some thirty years ago ;)), and as I am prone to realism, I rely on my personal experience and do not have Lothíriel show the "ordinary" symptoms of pregnancy like morning sickness which I never felt. But I had to cope with a really strange tiredness on the one hand while feeling well and rather energetic on the other. And I did eat quite weird things...:-[
Well, these things clarified, there is nothing left but to thank you all for reading, lurking, reviewing, flaming ;D and perhaps shaking you head.
I would like to thank all people who helped and encouraged me, especially sep12 and LBJ who helped me with the language, but also the other ladies from the Garden of Ithilien, and Lialathuveril and Ygrain33.
This story has finally come to an end and I hope you enjoyed reading it. I need a break now, perhaps a longer one, I don't know yet. I'm not sure if I will continue writing, as it is taking quite a lot of time. I want to have some time to think about it.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas, Yule, Solstice or whatever you celebrate and a very happy and successful New Year.
Thanwen, writer of weird stories and torturer of hoggish horselords. ;D