30. The Tournament Continues
Lothíriel felt relieved and vindicated when the sections of the stands holding partisans of the city of Minas Tirith and visitors from Dol Amroth applauded. They were apparently pleased that the fiendishly handsome elf-lord had chosen to champion a princess of Gondor and the favorite daughter of the Belfalas region. She felt unable control her faithless, reckless heart at sight of those fuming storm-grey eyes.
Elladan stretched to take Lothíriel's scarf of Dol Amroth blue, his cheeks scarlet, but his chin held high and jaw clenched. Lothíriel melted at the sight. She pulled her scarf back, kissed it, and, leaning hard on Aragorn's shoulder to keep from toppling forward, extended it toward Elladan again. Aragorn grunted at Lothíriel's weight. Arwen sighed in exasperation as Elladan, eyes glittering, snatched the scrap of cloth.
Lothíriel loudly declaimed, "Good fortune, my champion." Elladan broke into a triumphant grin. He kissed the scarf and tied it on top of his armour on his upper right arm. The crowd applauded riotously again. The loudest cheers, accompanied by yelps and shrill whistles, came from the assembled Rohirrim. Lothíriel sought out Legolas and Elrohir to see their reaction. The Elven prince shook his head at her in gesture of aggravation, folding his arms across his chest. Elrohir's eyes, wary and resigned, remained fixed upon his brother.
Chuckling, Celeborn spoke in a loud stage whisper, "To think I thought the Second-born were stodgy and prudish. This is better than an Avarin spring festival."
"Or even worse, depending upon one's frame of reference, I suppose," Galadriel said, not sounding in the least dismayed. "But surely you note that it is your eldest grandson who behaves like a wronged barbarian chieftain." Lothíriel went red in the face, listening to the comments of the Lord and Lady of Lórien.
"Must you always be such a shameless attention grabber," Éowyn said, poking Lothíriel hard in the ribs.
"Don't poke me, Éowyn." Lothíriel said, rubbing her side as though it hurt. "You know I hate it when you do things like that. Anyway, I didn't ask him. Why did the Riders respond so strongly?"
Éowyn glanced at Lothíriel with haughty sniff. "Men. They like to tease Éomer and probably think he had it coming for choosing another lady, even the Queen of Gondor, over his promised bride. No disrespect intended, Queen Arwen. No doubt they also like the idea of a willful Queen of Rohan since they were no doubt afraid they were getting a prim and proper Gondorian princess. Heh! Little do they know."
"Could be worse, I guess," Lothíriel responded. Éomer was looking directly at her, not angry, as she had feared, but affectionate and beaming straight at her. She had no idea what his expression conveyed, which agitated her.
"I think something has addled your brains and Éomer's as well. Look at how he's smirking. Can it be that he admires your brazen behavior too? Ah, here comes my proper Gondorian prince," Éowyn said, with a self-satisfied snort.
Lothíriel turned to Éowyn, straightening her shoulders, wanting to give as good as she got, but feeling flustered and at a distinct verbal and moral disadvantage. "Oh. Don't be so sure of that, Éowyn. He drove Denethor scatty with his rebelliousness. And then he took up with likes of you, didn't he?"
Faramir approached the stand and stopped in front of Aragorn and Arwen. He gazed up at Éowyn, his foolish smile reminding of Lothíriel of a child looking at a bowlful of sweets.
"My fairest Éowyn, Lady of Rohan, will you accept me as your champion."
Éowyn stood and was greeted with cheers. Lothíriel wondered where the crowd was getting its energy. The punishing sun on the Pelennor and lack of sleep was giving her a headache. She was certain that the walls of White City were so hot that one could fry an egg on them. Éowyn reached forward to hand a gauzy white veil to Faramir. Not quite as tall or longed-armed as Lothíriel, she released the lacy cloth a moment too soon. The breeze nearly carried it away. Aragorn caught it.
Lothíriel could have kissed Aragorn, when he stood, clownishly sniffed the perfumed scarf, and, bowing, handed it to Faramir, who snatched it with a courtly, waist-deep bow, and grinned like a jester.
"Thank you, my King and liege lord," Faramir intoned in a mock-serious voice. The crowd went wild. Meanwhile Éowyn planted her fists on her hips and looked belligerently from Faramir to Aragorn, before throwing up her hands and laughing. The White Lady of Rohan, as they called her, could do no wrong before this crowd. Minas Tirith, all of Gondor, adored the young woman who had slain the Witch-king of Angmar and won the heart of their beloved Steward.
Lothíriel felt a moment of nostalgia for the time, not long ago, when she would have been the favored maiden in a gathering of this sort anywhere in Gondor, as the only daughter of the Prince of prosperous and romantic Dol Amroth. She thought to herself that with any luck she would soon be far from Minas Tirith, its politics, and fickle preferences. Betrothed to the King of Rohan, she had no intention of breaking that commitment. At least she could console herself at the loss of half of her heart with the memory of Elladan wearing her colors.
Ever the diplomat, Faramir bowed to Éowyn, "I shall not disappoint you, my lady." Faramir had told them earlier that he had no aspirations to place highly in the contest of swordsmanship, but was determined to do well in archery.
"A respectable showing will be more than good enough. I don't expect you to best Legolas, but do watch out for tow-headed Elven lad from Dwimordene. He is deadly accurate and full of himself," Éowyn said sweetly. Arwen nearly choked on the chilled wine she was sipping.
"Ah, yes," Celeborn said. "Young Feredir, our greatest hope today."
After Legolas had claimed the championship of the Lady Galadriel, the begging of favors of the ladies went quickly. While the Rohirrim and others singled out the prettiest girls and young women of Gondor, the rakishly attractive Erestor chose a handsome Lossarnach noblewoman of a certain age, who undoubtedly had been a rare beauty in her youth. Her portly husband looked at least as pleased with Erestor's choice as his delighted wife. Lothíriel mused, not for the first time, that if she had not been determined to marry Éomer or struggling with her determined attempts to squash her enchantment with Elladan, that she could have been drawn to the enigmatic charms of the ancient Noldo.
The swordsmen, tortured by the heat, made a valiant effort to provide some degree for satisfaction for the crowd. Many of the best, had chosen not to participate. Aragorn and Glorfindel had refused, stating they preferred to enjoy the games rather than compete. Lothíriel could not take her eyes off Éomer and Elladan, who stood not two paces apart from one another watching the contests. Éomer stood with his helm tucked under his arm, golden hair lighter than his tanned face. Intense and focused, he is completely engaged in observing the technique of the pair sparring immediately in front them.
Elladan had braided his dark hair in tight rows against his head on both sides, accentuating his high cheekbones. His grey eyes, the pupils narrowed to a pinpoint in the blinding sun, look lighter than Lothíriel had seen them. He wore a contained and serene expression until suddenly, causing her to startle, he yelled something at her brother Erchirion, who sparred with a large, burly Rider of Rohan. Lothíriel laughed aloud in relief. Her brother without looking at Elladan grinned, cocky and self-assured.
Éowyn's voice, her Rohirric accent particularly harsh in Elvish, grated on Lothíriel's abraded nerves. "Ai, Elladan is wrong. Erchirion knows what he is doing. He has already defeated his opponent. He may be strong, and fast despite his size, but Erchirion isn't even winded and easily outwits him."
Aragorn said, "The Swan Knights are incomparable swordsmen as a group. The best in Gondor."
Lothíriel felt a compulsion to defend Rohan, which despite the vigor, bulkiness, and skill of its representatives, was being soundly trounced in this competition by her countrymen. "Indeed. They have had the best, and most expensive, teachers and the leisure to practice untold hours. Something the Rohirrim have not had. Dol Amroth is the richest and most privileged province of Gondor." As she spoke, Erchirion genially accepted the congratulations of the rough, bearded blond, who pulled him into a hard embrace, slapping him on the back.
"Fascinating study in contrasts," Celeborn said. Lothíriel's attention was again drawn back to Elladan and Éomer.
Galadriel laughed. "Like a bear sparring with an wood-sprite. A very skilled and agile bear."
Lothíriel tried to follow the conversation, which would have fascinated her a few short weeks ago, but increasingly caused her head to throb. They must be talking about Erchirion and his Rohirric sparring partner, she thought.
"Wait until you see my brother's sword work, Lady Galadriel," Éowyn added. "He is no bear."
Éomer was certainly not a bear, Lothíriel thought, far too subtle and certainly too slim for a bear. His broad shoulders and golden hair could mislead one at first glance, but he strongly manifested the long-limbed litheness and spectacular height of his Númenórean ancestors over the shorter, stockier build of the children of the House of Éorl. Additionally, Éomer used to his advantage both the pragmatism of the Rohirrim and the intellectual depth of the Númenóreans.
"I can well imagine. He reminds me of Glorfindel when he was young," Galadriel said.
That was an interesting observation, Lothíriel thought, if not the only time she had heard it. But she had a hard time seeing the similarity, distracted as she was by that unearthly glow about Glorfindel. The effect, however, was less obvious that day in the direct sunlight beating down on the Pelennor Fields.
"I'm flattered, my lady," Glorfindel answered. "A fine-looking fellow, the young Rohirric King."
Glorfindel's impudence with Galadriel never failed to amuse Lothíriel. She felt terribly intimated by the Lady of the Golden Wood herself.
"Oh, don't be too flattered. I spoke with the handsome King Éomer at length last night. Although he resembles you physically, he is far more pleasant and less vain," Galadriel replied, airily dismissive.
Lothíriel almost laughed at that. How could anyone be more pleasant than the ever-affable Glorfindel? She presumed she had missed a reference to some Age-old difference of opinion or dissimilarity in taste. In the case of these Noldor, it was more likely than not rooted in an all but forgotten family quarrel. For example, Galadriel was impatient in the company of Erestor, for example, for no other reason than that his family had aligned itself with Fëanor before any of them had left Valinor, although he had protected and served Elrond loyally for all of the last two Ages. She would have to ask Arwen later what, if any, history there was between Glorfindel and Galadriel.
Celeborn laughed and reached into a pocket, which hung from his belt, pulling out a silver flask. "Can I offer you drink, Glorfindel? Best Imladris miruvor."
"Bit of waste on that one," Elrond added drily.
"I'd gladly accept one," Glorfindel said, reaching across Aragorn and Arwen to accept the flask from Celeborn. Aragorn watched the exchange longingly.
Celeborn laughed, reaching into the bag again and tossing another flask to Aragorn. "I brought another. Thought that Arwen's sparkling wine might not be to your taste."
Listening to the trivial banter of those around her helped Lothíriel to collect herself. She finally turned her attention to the progress of the games and away from comparing and contrasting Elladan and Éomer. Her father was seated under a smaller canopy on the playing field itself, at table whereupon were rows of medallions mounted on ribbons to be presented to the victors.
Erestor bested Éomer in swordplay, but not without effort. The crowd appreciated the exceptionally well-matched pair. Erchirion took first place. He barely had been able to squeak by Erestor, who had not really recovered from the intensity of his bout with Éomer, a fact the young Swan Knight was anxious to explain to anyone who would listen. A flood of affection for her brother washed over Lothíriel and for Prince Imrahil as well. She noted how proud her father looked when he passed out the medallions to the top three competitors in swordplay. Éomer sprinted over to gift his third-place medallion to Arwen. He glanced up at Lothíriel and gave her a wink. The boyish blush suffusing his face while he apologized to Arwen for not being able to offer her a First indicated that he was not displeased with his result.
As the day progressed, a few cumulus clouds drifted overhead, which together with a breeze from the river at last alleviated the worst of the midday heat. The last preparations for the archery competition were being completed on the field.
Lord Celeborn ventured a comment that this was likely to be the most interesting contest of the day. Lothíriel, however, looked forward with ill-suppressed nervousness to the jousting which was the next event that would include both Elladan and Éomer.
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