43. A Night of Music and Dancing
A/N: The lament can be found in chapter 6 of "The Return of the King", "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields".
The Old English translation of the lament is by Shawn R. McKee and can be found at www.elvish.org/gwaith.
The menu I described is a real menu from the 14th century, which has been slightly adapted so that it can be actually cooked today. If you are interested I can give you the recipes.
A Night of Music and Dancing
"It's so good to see you well and alive, Frodo," I told the hobbit who was seated at my left.
Frodo gave me a small, pale smile. His left hand was bandaged tightly around the stump of the missing finger. It made for clumsy eating. But he smiled.
"I'm glad to be alive, too," he said. "I never expected to be." He sighed. I could see that he was not really well. He was not even out of the shock of it all. His eyes showed it.
I am sure you have read about the expression of "having eyes too old for his age" or some similar phrase. You may even have seen pictures of African child-soldiers on TV who have eyes like that. Eyes that have seen killing close-up and personal and contributed their own part to it. Eyes that are somehow old and dead inside. Like so many things it's different if you see this look in the eyes of a friend. I remembered Frodo's eyes as they had been in Bree. Bright and clear, kind eyes, young eyes, with a touch of melancholy, but it had been the comfortable melancholy of a dreamer or a poet.
Now, as I looked at Frodo's eyes, I had the feeling that he did not see me at all or the bright lights above us or the merry people all around. His eyes were dark and as I looked at them I had the feeling that what he did see was not the golden culumalda and the feast all around, but a black land of ashes and demons, darkness and death all around him. I had the disturbing feeling that Frodo had to actually concentrate to be able to see reality as it was now, as it was good and bright, and not to see the shadows that lay behind him.
My heart tightened with pity for him.
Then I realized suddenly that I had seen this look before in a living and breathing person. I had seen that look on someone else in Middle-earth; but at that time I had not recognized this kind of look. For a moment the bright lights faded around me and a chill ran down my back. Back then I could not have recognized that look. I knew that. After all, how should I know what people were supposed to look like after a few thousand years?
But now I knew. My heart felt heavy with the knowledge of that pain. I had seen that look on Elrond's face in Rivendell. And suddenly, for the first time, I understood why the elves and Frodo had to go, why they had to leave Middle-earth.
Some wounds are too deep.
Some hurts can never heal.
When dark memories take away the sun of even the brightest day, what is there left to do?
At least they would not die. They could go to Aman, to that paradise in the West. On earth no one has that option. There the only option is death and whatever hope anyone has for an afterlife.
"I am so happy to see you alive and well, too," Frodo was saying just now. "At Amon Hen, when I had a look around, I thought I saw many orcs running towards us. I have been worried for such a long time that they might have reached you."
I gave Frodo a wavering smile, forcing my thoughts away from darkness and pain, his as well as some nasty memories of my own.
"Those orcs reached us just fine," I said, keeping my voice purposefully light, raising my still bandaged wrists.
Frodo gasped. "Oh, no! What happened?"
"After Boromir tried to take the Ring from you –"
"But Boromir never tried to take the Ring from me!" Frodo interrupted.
I gasped – the sound of me sucking in air positively echoed around the table – and then I gaped at the hobbit. I blinked. Boromir had never tried to take the ring from Frodo? But he had… I thought back to the scene at Amon Hen, tears rising in my eyes with the memory. Much of that day was a jumbled heap of horror in my memory. But I did remember very clearly how broken Boromir had been, stumbling into our midst after his encounter with Frodo in the woods. However… he had never actually said that he had tried to take the ring from Frodo. I felt my throat tighten with pain. If he had not tried to take the Ring from Frodo, why did he have to die? "May I," my voice sounded hoarse to my ears. I cleared my throat. "May I ask what happened between you… and… Boromir that day?"
Something flickered in Frodo's eyes, he shuddered. "We… we got into an argument about where we should go from Amon Hen, and Boromir shouted, and he put his hand to his sword, he was… completely beside himself. I… I could see that the, the Ring was taking control of him, and I feared for him." He paused. Then he looked at me. "I was also afraid of Boromir. I did not like the way he behaved… towards you. I was worried what he might do. And… I knew he was a valorous man, if He was able to get to the heart of a noble knight like that, what chance would others stand? I was afraid of everyone of you!" He was talking fast now, breathless, his eyes wide with relived fear. "That's why I slipped on the Ring, I did not know what else to do, and when I disppeared, when I was gone, Boromir… it was as if a shadow left him. When I was gone, he was again the noble warrior I remembered.
"It was me, it was –"
"No, Frodo," Gandalf interrupted. "It was not you who had that effect on Boromir. It was the Ring. And in the end Boromir's heart was strong enough to withstand its lure, barely. Just as you were strong enough, with Sam at your side. The smallest one may change the course of history, and did. And friendship and love may prevail in the end." The wizard looked at me and nodded. Did he mean to imply that I had helped Boromir not to try and take the Ring? But if that was true, why did Boromir have to die? I tried to swallow, but my throat was almost unbearably tight, and I had to widen my eyes painfully so I would not cry.
"But I think you wanted to know what happened to the other hobbits, didn't you?" Gandalf went on smoothly and nodded to me. "I think that is your story, Lothíriel."
Don't you see that I'm in no condition to talk? I glared at the wizard. He just raised one of those bushy white brows at me. I picked up my goblet, took a hasty swallow of wine and forced myself to take up the story where I had stopped."Anyway, the orcs came at us. And it was a bloody fight. They killed Boromir." I paused. Boromir who had not succumbed to the Ring. Boromir… I inhaled deeply and went on. "They took Merry, Pippin and me as prisoners and tried to take us to Isengard, to that traitorous sorcerer. But Éomer and his riders –" I exhaled to get rid of that tight feeling in my chest and involuntarily reached out to take Éomer's hand. I felt my stomach do a flip and my hand tingled. But when I tried to draw my hand away, he held it tightly. I gasped a little and had to force myself to continue speaking in this light, bright voice. "Éomer saved me and gave the hobbits the opportunity to escape into Fangorn where they met the ents."
"Were you terribly hurt?" Frodo asked with wide eyes, his voice filled with apprehension.
I shook my head and managed a fairly cheerful smile. "Not at all, just scratches, see? And Merry and Pippin came out with not even that. On top of that, they were allowed to drink ent-draught and now they are at least three inches taller than they were."
At my comment about my "scratches", Éomer's hand tightened almost painfully around mine. Apparently he did not think that "not hurt at all" applied to the condition he found me in. Well, probably he was right on that account, but Frodo really did not need to hear that right now.
Damn. I liked having my hand held like that.
Lothíriel, Lothíriel stop this before it gets out of hand…
But somehow I did not manage to summon up sufficient power of will to remove my hand from Éomer's grasp.
"What are ents?" Frodo asked, bewildered.
Gandalf laughed at that. "Trust a hobbit to come up with an almost unanswerable question in the blink of an eye!"
Frodo frowned. "Well, if it's not answerable, then don't."
"I said 'almost'," the wizard replied, winking at the hobbit. "Ents are among the oldest beings in all of Arda. The shortest, if not really accurate, answer is that they are tree herders. They watch the trees. But I think you should perhaps ask Merry and Pippin to tell you about ents. They stayed for quite some time with Treebeard, the chief of the ents in Fangorn."
Gandalf smiled and raised a glass of red wine. "It's good to have you back, Frodo!"
"Yes, it is," I said and raised my glass, too.
Suddenly everyone at the table raised their glass and said in unison: "It's good to have you back, Frodo!"
Frodo's face lit up with joy at that.
"And Sam!" he said, got up from his chair and raised his own glass to toast his friend at the other end of the table. Of course, everyone followed suit.
"To Sam!" we called, and many cheers went up around us.
Sam's face turned red as a beet, but he smiled from ear to pointy ear.
Then the first course arrived on silver plates carried by swift footed servants in the black and white colours of Gondor.
The menu was delicious! Seven courses of culinary delights!
The first course was a pastry with minced pigeon and something that tasted like truffles. It whetted the appetite. I felt I could have eaten three times as much of that pastry than was served. But when the other courses arrived one after the other, I was rather glad that I hadn't. I would have burst!
The second course was fish, rosefish in a sauce with nutmeg, cloves, cardamom and ginger.
Next came the meat course, which was a roast of tender beef cooked in a marinade of red wine and raisins.
With the fish and the meat an assortment of breads was served but no additional vegetables or rice. That felt a bit strange to me, but it did make it easier to concentrate on the delicate flavour of the individual dishes.
The fourth course was vegetable, some kind of cabbage stew with fresh bacon.
The fifth course was a porridge of some kind of grain with saffron.
Those two courses I probably have to explain. They were the noble man's version of "simple food". Common people almost never ate anything else in Gondor or Rohan then, and it goes without saying that their grits went without saffron, and their cabbage almost never contained a whiff of bacon.
It sounds pretty icky, but it was really tasteful. It should be, too, with the finest cooks of Gondor at work in the kitchen tents down at the Anduin.
The cabbage was stewed all day and the bacon they used for it had been smoked to perfection. The grain grits was all pearly and rice-like in the mouth and with that pungent spicy taste of saffron it was truly delicious.
Nevertheless I was happy to see that the sixth course was a light green salad of different kinds of cress with a vinaigrette with fresh herbs. As a girl of twenty-first century earth I am willing to commit murder for a good green salad.
Thinking about the inclusion of cabbage and cress in the menu, I realized what the cooks had been trying to accomplish with the composition of the courses for this meal: this menu was all about the best that was left from the winter supplies and the best of the first fresh food of this spring. With no supermarket about where you can get everything you want all the time, the different seasons of the year and their individual crops and fruit really rise in your esteem.
The dessert was a kind of "Blanc-Manger" with saffron, a pudding of rice and almonds coated in gold-foil (yes, you can eat that; but it doesn't really taste like anything).
By the time we had reached the dessert a full moon had risen above the trees.
I was absolute replete and comfortably contemplating the differences between the food here and on earth. It was probably not all that different from earlier centuries on earth. There was at least one common factor: exotic spices, truffles and saffron were signs of luxury here as well as on earth.
Then I sighed with pleasure as another common factor appeared on the table: ein Klarer, ein Obstler, ein Schnaps, schnapps, in short, a clear liquor made of some kind of fruit and an essential aid for digesting seven courses of delicacies, no matter if you're on earth or in Gondor.
I realized that Gandalf was watching me over the rim of his own glass and laughing at me. I raised my eyebrows at him. "You drink it too! What's so funny?"
"Only your relief at finding a civilized liquor on the table of the king of Gondor." Gandalf chuckled. Éomer shrugged. It was going to take some time to get used to Gandalf's new mirth.
Half an hour after the last dishes were cleared away and the servants had circled twice with their jugs of liquor, a herald in the black and white of Gondor stepped on the dance floor.
He struck the floor thrice with the ornate staff of his office.
"My ladies, my lords! The first dance of the evening is the king's dance."
Drums started rolling.
Suddenly I felt a light touch on my shoulder. I turned around to stare at Aragorn.
The King of Gondor smiled at me. Then he said, "May I have the honour of this dance?"
My mouth fell open. I gaped at him. "But… Arwen… she…"
"Is not here," Aragorn supplied. "I hope you don't mind, Éomer? I will return her unscathed."
Éomer grinned at his friend. "I hope so, for your sake."
And what did that mean?
Then Éomer moved back my chair and allowed Aragorn to draw me up from my seat.
My knees felt like jelly. As Aragorn led me down the dais, I felt thousands of eyes on me like needles. I gulped again. I was to dance with the King of Gondor!
"You do realize that I don't know any dance of this country at all?" I said in a weak voice.
Aragorn's eyes gleamed with amusement.
"But I do," he countered. "Arwen taught me about every dance that was ever danced in Middle-earth. Don't worry. Just look into my eyes. Arwen would be pleased."
I sighed. "If you say so."
It was too late to run away. But I did give it a thought.
The music began.
Fiddles, flutes, drums of various sizes, guitars and harps.
It was a fast tune and the rhythm was vaguely like foxtrot. To my relief the steps were similar, too.
I could do this.
I did this!
Round and round the King of Gondor swept me, to the cheers and the clapping of thousands of warrior and onlookers from near and far.
Finally the music died down and the unbelievable thing happened:
I managed to pull off an honest-to-God curtsy!
Perhaps my knees were just too wobbly to stay upright.
My heart was beating like a drum, adrenaline was rushing through my body, the most exhilarating drug a body can produce. Aragorn drew me up and together we bowed to the cheering crowd.
Then Aragorn led me back to the dais, right into Éomer's arms.
I was in no condition to think clearly. I was in no condition to think at all. Does that count as an excuse?
Éomer held me close and looked down at me, his dark eyes smiling. "You were wonderful," he said softly. "But now you have to dance with me."
"Okay," I said breathlessly. It had been fun. Down below the dance floor was filling up with many couples, now that the King had opened the dancing for the night. I saw Míriël float by in Prince Imrahil's arms.
Without giving me the time to think twice, Éomer led me down the dais. His hold on me was different. Warm, strong. He smelled good, too. Kind of spicy.
Don't even go there, Lothíriel.
Then we were on the dance floor and Éomer turned out to be a brilliant dancer, better even than Aragorn. He spun me this way and that way, swept me around in the most dizzying manner, only to catch me against his broad chest again.
All thoughts fled from my mind.
Of the world around me, there was nothing left but music, rhythm, dancing… and Éomer.
Strong hands drawing me close and sending me away.
Dark eyes blazing, soft lips smiling, gold-dun hair glowing.
Suddenly the music slowed down.
A low, haunting melody flowed over the dance floor. Couples drew up against each other.
My heart was beating like a drum.
My stomach was filled with butterflies.
My arms and knees felt all wobbly.
"I can't do this," I whispered.
Warmth, strength surrounded me.
"It's really simple," Éomer told me, his dark voice soothing. "I will show you."
"I place my hands against your waist like that." Strong hands moulded themselves against my sides. "See, it's simple. And now you do the same," Éomer said.
With trembling hands I reached for him. I touched a leather tunic that was soft as silk, and under it I felt the steely strength of a warrior's body. I felt completely dizzy. Éomer smiled at me. His eyes darkened, taking in my reaction to his closeness.
"Yes, like that. Exactly," he murmured.
The music swept up in a lilting variation of the original theme.
"And now…" his voice was like honey, like mead, dark and sweet, like caresses in the twilight. "And now we turn. Round and round."
"And round again," I gasped.
Slowly we twirled to the rhythm of the tune.
This was a devious dance.
You have to touch each other fairly intimately, but at the same time your upper bodies are far enough away from each other that you simply have to look into each other's eyes.
Suddenly I grew aware that we had stopped dancing. We were standing in the far corner of the dance floor. Éomer's hands were still at my waist, a heavy, comforting, exhilarating grip.
Somehow my hands had ended up at his chest. When had that happened?
My head was tilted back so I was looking up at him. I swallowed hard. His beautiful eyes were so close. Why had I never noticed that his lips were so full, so sensuous?
Clarions sounded clear and bright.
I started, looking away from Éomer to the dance floor. The moon had wandered. Now it hung right above Anduin. Soft white mists were drifting up from the river. The many lanterns in the culumalda trees glittered like fallen stars.
Again a herald had moved to the centre of the dance floor.
Thrice the herald struck the floor.
"Now it is time to lament the fallen heroes and praise them with great praise."
"Now it's my turn," Éomer whispered to me. He squeezed my shoulders briefly, then walked to the centre of the dance floor.
The lanterns and torches around the dance floor were extinguished.
Finally Éomer stood tall and proud in a pool of cool white moonlight.
Silence had fallen once again on the Field of Cormallen.
The only sounds were the soft rushing of the rivers and the slight rustle of the new leaves of the culumalda in the breeze.
Then a harp began to play.
It was a mournful, haunting melody as if tears had been turned into a tune.
Then the song of the harp died away.
Only then Éomer began to sing.
He sang in the language of the Rohirrim.
I could not understand the words, but it is a melancholy language, a language of wide, wind swept plains, hard lives lived under an endless sky, a language that has been born from many centuries of war and peace.
It is a language well suited to a lament of fallen heroes.
But it was Éomer's voice that sent shiver after shiver down my spine.
His voice was very deep, more bass than baritone, but it was clear, clear like a mountain stream and cool like the wind of the plains.
This is what he sang:
We hierdon þara horna on þæm hringde beorgum
þæm sweorda scinde on þæm suð-cynerice.
Stedas gongdon eodon to þæm Stana-Lond
windlice þæm morgena. Wig wæs onælde.
þær Þéoden feoll, Þengling mihtig,
to his goldselum, and grenum læsum
on þæm Noreð feldum næfre gecierran,
þara hlaford heapa. Harding and Guthlàf,
Dúnhere and Déorwine, deor-mod Grimbold,
Herefara and Herubrand, Horn and Fastred,
feohtdon and þær feollon, on feore folclande:
on þæm Mold-ærne Mundburga under moldan licge
mid hira gaderwistum Gondora leodfrumum.
Ne Hirluin se fægra be flote to beorgum,
ne Forlong se ealde to þæm florisc denum
æfre, to Arnache, to his earde sin
gerierrdon on sigore; ne þæm sceotendas langas,
Derufin and Duilin, to hira deorce wæteras,
moras Morthonda under munta sceadum.
Deaþ on þæm morgene and æt dæga endan
toc drihtenas and swanas. Nu slæpiað long
under molderne on Gondore be þa Mihtigan Ean.
Nu græg tearlice, glæd seolfor,
read ða weallde, wæter grymetiende:
blodic brim byrniað æt æfentide;
muntas lic beacen byrniað æt æfene;
readfah se deaw fylde on Rammase Echore.
In the Common Tongue the words of Éomer's lament are these:
We heard of the horns in the hills ringing,
the swords shining in the South-Kingdom.
Steeds went striding to the Stoningland
as wind in the morning. War was kindled.
There Théoden fell, Thengling mighty,
to his golden halls and green pastures
in the Northern fields never returning,
high lord of the host. Harding and Guthlàf,
Dúnhere and Déorwine, doughty Grimbold,
Herefara and Herubrand, Horn and Fastred,
fought and fell there in a far country:
in the Mounds of Mundburg under mould they lie
with their league-fellows, lords of Gondor.
Neither Hirluin the Fair to the hills by the sea,
nor Forlong the old to the flowering vales
ever, to Arnach, to his own country
returned in triumph; nor the tall bowmen,
Derufin and Duilin, to their dark waters,
meres of Morthond under mountain-shadows.
Death in the morning and at day's ending
lords took and lowly. Long now they sleep
under grass in Gondor by the Great River.
Grey now as tears, gleaming silver,
red then it rolled, roaring water:
foam dyed with blood flamed at sunset;
as beacons mountains burned at evening;
red fell the dew in Rammas Echor.
At the end of his song, Éomer let his voice die away as if the singer was moving off into the distance. For a moment longer he remained standing in the centre of the dance floor, alone and unmoving.
Silence echoed around the Field of Cormallen.
Slowly Éomer walked away from the dance floor.
Slowly he walked towards me.
When he stood in front of me, I could see that he was crying.
Silver trails of tears were streaming down his cheeks.
Time and the world stopped around us.
Without hesitation I allowed me to be drawn into his embrace.
Dark eyes locked their gaze with mine.
Soft, velvety lips touched my mouth.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.