7. The Feast
“You know, Éomer, it is a lot easier to see a scuffmark on the toe of your boot than it is to see the remains of a meal on the part of your beard that lies immediately beneath your nose.”
Éomer could not believe he had scuffed his boots already. He looked down: the toes were shiny and clean. He raised his hand, just about to wipe it over his mouth when he realised that it was Gandalf speaking and what the wizard meant.
“Sometimes,” Gandalf went on, “the clearer our eyes see things, the cloudier our minds become.”
“I am sorry, Gandalf, I do not follow you.” He knew he should have grabbed a drink when he had the chance. Now he would have to wait until he sat down.
“Put it this way, if something is forbidden to us, then we do not have to give it thought, as we cannot have it. But if we are allowed to have something then we have to decide if we wish to take it.”
Not only were the wizard’s lips quivering with amusement but his white bushy eyebrows had a definite tremble. Éomer found he could not say anything. It would make no difference anyway as Gandalf probably knew what he was thinking? Béma, he had been worrying about his future lack of privacy but he had always imagined his thoughts would be his own.
“But,” Gandalf did not seem bothered by the one sided conversation, “I remember telling Théoden one day that you were a man of clear mind, so you will have no difficulty deciding what to do. Now,” the wizard looked around to check the whereabouts of the other members of the group, “everyone is waiting for us. We must go in. And don’t worry about Frodo, Éomer; he is sitting between Aragorn and me. He will not be allowed to overdo things. Just keep an eye on Pippin, will you?”
Éomer smiled for the first time since he had been introduced to Nienna. He should probably be ecstatic but the warm feeling had gone and now he only felt a kind of numbness. Gandalf’s typically obscure utterances didn’t help either. Clear mind? It was now decidedly foggy. “I will try, Gandalf, but I make no promises. Pippin reminds me of one of your fireworks – you think they have gone out but suddenly they explode into life.” Éomer laughed, feeling light-hearted again, “I shall keep a jug of water handy.”
“I did not have all the right elements at Cormallen,” Gandalf said, rather petulantly for a wizard. The keeper of Narya, Ring of Fire, was clearly affronted at the suggestion his fireworks were anything other than perfect. Éomer grinned at the Istari, pleased to be able to get his own back for once.
“I shall remember that, young king,” the twinkle was back in Gandalf’s eye, “now come on there is no time for all this chatter.
He couldn’t see anyone sitting on anyone else’s lap when he entered the hall. Lothíriel - would he always think of her as Nessa - must have made sense of the seating plan. He scanned the tables nearest the dais. As he thought she sat on one of the top tables, next to Erchirion, with Amrothos and Nienna opposite her and Elladan and Elrohir along from them. He could not immediately see who sat on the other side of her as his view was blocked when the whole hall rose as soon as Aragorn stepped up onto the platform. The remaining eight companions, one of whom was now the new the King of Gondor, would take their seats on the dais. And besides them there were places for himself, Éowyn, as the slayer of the Witch King, Imrahil and Faramir who would act as master of ceremonies. The banners of Gondor, Rohan and Dol Amroth had been erected behind their seats and the banners of all the feoffs of Gondor had been raised down the inner side of the long hall. Éomer had to admit it looked an impressive sight: not only was the table decorated with candles, fruit and flowers but there were massive candelabras suspended from the high vaulted ceiling. They had been lowered on chains to hang above each table. The main door had been closed but the side doors were partly open and retainers were stationed by each one; they would need to push them wide once the dancing started, Éomer thought as he ran his finger around his collar. Théodred must have had a thinner neck.
He took his place next to Aragorn. His sister sat next to him with Imrahil on her other side. As soon as they were seated his eyes were drawn instinctively to the - as he now knew - Princess of Dol Amroth. He glanced across and she looked over and caught his eye. She gave him one of her lovely smiles. It did not go unnoticed by her two brothers and Erchirion whispered something in her ear. He knew he couldn’t keep looking, as much as he wanted to, so he glanced along his own table. Being slightly curved, a sort of half moon shape, he had a good view of his fellow diners. Looking to his right he caught sight of Pippin and Merry. The two hobbit’s eyes were wide with anticipation at the food arrayed before them. They seemed to be surveying and discussing every dish. Éomer grinned to himself, fully aware of their trenching abilities. Well, they would have to wait. They couldn’t even start the appetisers before Faramir had said his piece and welcomed everybody. Just as he thought that, Pippin’s hand shot out and the resourceful hobbit filched a small raised pie. The move so quick that Éomer thought no one else would have noticed it. The pie was passed to Merry and immediately Pippin did the same thing again. He watched fascinated as both hobbits surreptitiously put their hands to their mouths and shoved the complete pies inside. Their cheeks were bulging as they tried to eat them without anyone seeing.
Perhaps they were right to take some nourishment as Faramir’s speech went on for a quite a while. The Steward introduced them all and gave the audience a brief resume of everyone’s contribution to the victory. Éowyn turned pink again and he himself did not quite know where to look when his leadership was commented upon. Well, he did, and she was looking straight at him. He ran his finger around his collar again. Faramir went on, forgetting nobody: Théoden; the Rohirrim; the soldiers of Dol Amroth; of Minas Tirith; of all the feoffs; his own rangers; the healers and numerous others. Éomer perceived that two more pies had disappeared from the platter nearest to Pippin sometime during the speech.
At last Faramir raised his goblet, firstly to Victory and then to the King. They could eat. The Steward certainly had no trouble expressing himself, no doubt a good thing in his position. Éomer allowed himself a brief sputter of a chuckle wondering how he would approach asking for Eowyn’s hand. The King of Rohan drained his own goblet. He really needed that. The cup was immediately replenished by the server behind him. Éomer put it straight to his mouth.
“Thirsty?” Aragorn remarked slightly amused.
“Some days do that to you,” Éomer did not elaborate.
“They do indeed.”
Gondor’s new king regarded him speculatively but he had no intention of anyone finding out what a darn fool he had been unless it proved inevitable. Gandalf knew. But then Gandalf seemed to know everything. At least the wizard remained tight lipped about most of them. Éomer still wanted to go over it in his mind but he could hardly sit next to Aragorn and ignore him.
“So, you have asked Princess Lothíriel to ride with you tomorrow?” his friend went on with that knowing smirk he excelled in.
“She and Éowyn have become friendly,” Éomer replied in as non committal a way as he could manage.
“Ahh…,” Aragorn managed to instil a wealth of meaning into that small word.
Luckily Éomer was spared having to think of some retort by the arrival of the hot dishes. They had been well catered for at Cormallen but the Citadel chefs had excelled themselves. As well as mounds of pink seafood with, Éomer noticed, numerous legs roast goose appeared, flowed by suckling pigs and venison pies plus many other fine meats and cheeses. The pastry on the pies had been beautifully embellished with decorations depicting White Trees, Horse’s Heads and Swan-ships. The table groaned under the weight of the variety of salads and hot vegetables in rich sauces on offer. Éomer heard Sam exclaim loudly when a huge dish of steaming minted potatoes materialised in front of him. It pleased him to observe however that, amongst all the sumptuous food on the table, the Gondorian steward had put a plate of plain sliced chicken, bread and a bowl of soup in front of Frodo. Éomer helped himself to some pie and some goose and then thankfully found that he could think: Aragorn was talking to Frodo and to Gandalf beyond him and his sister and Imrahil were in deep discussion about their mutual kinswoman: Morwen of Lossarnach.
The King of Rohan put a piece of goose into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. He admitted that his thoughts were rather more muddled than usual but if he kept chewing he would not have to speak and could perhaps sort them out. He could pretend he was listening to the music, although it sounded a little insipid for his taste. He sighed, Imrahil’s daughter! Gandalf was right; he now had to decide what to do. The main thing to think about was whether or not she felt as attracted to him as he did to her. He had thought she had been flirting but perhaps he’d got it wrong.. She would have been brought up to be polite and charming to everyone and that charm could have, and probably did, translate to such friendly openness with someone more or less of equal rank, she knew to be the brother of a friend and on top of that had formed a close bond with her father and brothers. No, he could see no reason for her not to be relaxed in his company. That meant that basically he had no idea if she had the slightest interest in him at all.
Nobody had spoken to him so he quickly speared a piece of pie and potato and transferred it to his mouth. The next thing to decide - how attracted to her, was he? Well, quite a lot really. He had thought her to be …Nienna when he first saw her at the coronation, and although he had tried to push her from his mind he had failed dismally. Outside in the garden, when he had no reason not to think that she was other than Amrothos’s intended, he had wanted to kiss her. Very much, and probably more than kiss, if he were honest. But it was not only that, he stabbed his fork into another piece of pie, he had talked to her. He had talked to her easily and without embarrassment about his mistake in the battle, his sister and that dratted sponge. Thinking he had no right to pursue her in any way he had decided to forget that and make sure had no opportunity of finding himself alone with her again. But now, although he did not actually have the right to pursue her, nothing stopped him flirting with her. And whereas he definitely could not mess with Imrahil’s daughter, and would not want to, as he had far too much respect for the prince, he could at least discover if she had, or was likely to have, any feelings for him. What if she did? He had a duty to find a queen for the Riddermark and provide an heir or preferably more. He tugged at his collar at the thought of a begetting an heir with the Princess of Dol Amroth. The hall was getting extremely hot. He took some salad; the vegetables were still sizzling in heated metal dishes.
Could there be anyone better? He had inwardly groaned when Imrahil had mentioned his daughter, probably not admitting to himself even then that she was likely, judging from the family members he had already met, to make an ideal queen. But he wanted a wife, not just a queen, and what’s more he wanted to find that wife himself. He knew that, but what he did not know whether he had found her. He must look at this sensibly: definitely too important an issue to be decided by the feelings she stirred in a certain area of his body. It would be stupid to deny that he could go to Imrahil and discuss the matter with him. Well, not that particular bit maybe, but the possibility of a union. That, he understood, was how they did things in Gondor. But he did not want that. He expected and wished his wife to want to marry him. The most sensible thing to do would be to spend some time in her company over the next five or so days and if he still felt the same and thought she was not adverse to him then he would invite her to accompany the funeral cortege to Edoras with her father and brothers and they would have plenty of time to get to know one another. Without a doubt it would be the most sensible thing to do and he felt much relieved now that he had decided on it.
Éomer cut up another piece of goose, raised the fork to his lips and glanced over to the Princess. A white hot searing pain shot through him. It hit him squarely in the chest and such a pain as he had never felt before. Nessa was leaning away from Erchirion and looked to be talking intimately with the person on her right. For the first time he realised who sat next to her: Beren, Erchirion’s friend and the heir to Lebennin. A young man about the same age as himself, good looking, pleasant company and a capable warrior. Up to that moment Éomer had liked him a lot.
“Are you alright, Éomer? You look ill,” his sister sounded concerned. “Aren’t you hungry?” She eyed the piece of meat still on his fork.
“I’m fine,” he muttered and put the portion of goose in his mouth to prove it. Éomer chewed for a moment and then picked up his goblet and took a large gulp of wine - the only way the meat would reach his stomach.
“Well, you don’t look fine,” Éowyn persisted, “and you should not eat and drink at the same time. It is bad for the digestion.” Luckily for her brother, Imrahil remembered something else he wanted to tell her and she turned back to the prince again.
The meal seemed to go on forever and he managed to get down a little more food, have a conversation with Aragorn and come to terms with what had upset him – he was jealous. He had not recognised the feeling at first because… well, because he had never felt jealous before. Not in regard to a woman, anyway. He supposed he had been a bit jealous when Éothain, being older, had a warhorse before him. But that was natural. This was not. He had very sensibly decided to try and get to know the princess a little better. Give her chance to know him and then, perhaps, speak to her father. But instead of that the moment he had looked across and saw her head close to Beren’s it had hit him. His reaction had left him shaken, having been totally unprepared for the shaft of raw emotion that tore through him. He had wanted to stride over there, take her hand, and drag her outside and then…then what? Kiss her senseless, that’s what. Of course, he’d do that after he had connected his fist with Beren’s aristocratic nose and spread it all over his handsome face.
In all his deliberation he had never given thought to the fact that her affections may be already engaged elsewhere. But surely his sister would know. She would not have tried to push them together if she believed that. And Imrahil had been dropping hints, but then she could have kept it from her father. Although there would be no reason to do so, Éomer admitted to himself, as Beren would be a fine match. He could see no reason why Imrahil would object, especially as Lebennin was closer than Edoras.
He looked over again. Nessa now talked across the table to Nienna. Perhaps he overreacted. Erchirion was good friends with Beren so she would know him well. But it still bothered him that his assumption that he could walk up to Imrahil and claim his daughter’s hand may be totally misplaced. If he wanted her, and it was fair to say it looked as though he did, then he was going to have to do something about it. The irony being that he had never had to do anything like it before. He couldn’t really remember being interested enough in any woman as to want to chase her. Well, he would have to do it now and learn as he went along.
“Éomer,” his sister’s voice brought him out of his reverie, “you haven’t eaten much and the puddings are coming.”
Good, that meant he did not have to eat anything else. “I have had enough,” he indicated to the steward that his plate could be removed.
The dishes were cleared and great bowls of syllabub, trifles and fruit fools were put on the table. These were followed by juicy ripe peaches that the servers piled high on silver platters. Imrahil said they had come from the hothouses of southern Belfalas.
“Éomer,” Éowyn seemed unable to leave him to think, “I hope you don’t mind but I have promised the first dance to Faramir, as it’s rather special. We can dance the one after that.”
“No, I don’t mind,” he said absently. Then a wide grin suddenly spread across his face, “I have arranged to partner…Lothíriel for the first one.”
“Oh, you have, have you? Well, you don’t waste any time, I’ll grant you that.”
“If you must know, Éowyn, she asked me.” Why had he forgotten that? His brain must be totally fogged. Eomer sat back in his chair and relaxed for a moment feeling confident that he at least had a chance. He looked along the table just as Imrahil leant forward to reach the water jug. “Oh no!” the exclamation startled everyone around as he caught sight of Pippin through the gap. The miscreant hobbit was trying to extract the largest and juiciest peach from the pile in front of him. Unfortunately it was nearly at the bottom. Éowyn turned to follow Éomer’s words and his gaze and brother and sister watched open mouthed as the whole pile tipped sideways towards Imrahil and peach after peach plopped heavily into the large bowl of syllabub next to the prince.
Blobs of the soft creamy pudding flew everywhere. Imrahil looked as if he had been out in a snowstorm. He jumped up swearing vehemently, his normal composure hidden somewhere under a layer of sticky goo. The table was covered but luckily Éowyn had been mostly protected by the prince’s bulk and Éomer had been sitting back out of the way. He could not resist looking over to the table where Imrahil’s offspring were sitting. He was not disappointed. Amrothos and Erchirion were almost doubled up with mirth but he noticed, with some amusement, that Lothíriel had her lips tightly clamped together in a valiant effort not to laugh.
“I thought you were keeping an eye on him, Éomer. Your mind was no doubt elsewhere.” Gandalf sounded most annoyed for a wizard and he shot past with his white robes flying behind him like sheets hung out on a windy day. He reached the stunned hobbit and picked him up bodily by the scruff of his neck, “Peregrine Took! You and I are going to have a few little words.”
Imrahil, after apologising to Éowyn for his verbal tirade, followed Gandalf out of the hall and an army of servants descended on the mayhem. Éowyn’s dress needed a little dabbing with a damp cloth but she was able to stay and try the trifle. The remaining dishes of syllabub were ignored.
The feast drew to a close with a short speech from the new King of Gondor which included an announcement of the betrothal between Amrothos of Dol Amroth and Nienna, daughter of Adian, Captain of Swan Knights. To Éomer it was an unexpected but welcome end to the day. He chose not to dwell on what his feelings would have been if things had been different.
The majority of the tables were being pushed along the sides of the hall to make way for dancing and the musicians were waiting to take over the dais. Most of the ladies, including Nienna and Nessa, he observed, took the opportunity to exit the hall to refresh themselves. Éowyn mumbled something about checking her dress and disappeared. Éomer jumped down onto the floor of the hall and made his way over to congratulate Amrothos. It was something he could do whole heartedly.
The two princes were still laughing over their father’s misfortune. Erchirion looked up as soon as Éomer approached. He had even more of a wicked grin on his face than usual. “Ah, Éomer, I understand that there is a ride being organised tomorrow. How nice. I thought I might join you and,” the grin got even wider, “as I am unlikely to find a suitable lady, one who is able to stay on a horse, that is, I thought Beren could keep me company.”
Éomer briefly wondered if the murder of Imrahil’s second son would start another war but decided, reluctantly, not to risk it. Instead he smiled and tried to look pleased, “Of course, the more the merrier. Hopefully we can be away quite early.” He was rewarded by an expression crossing both Erchirion’s and Beren’s faces which left no doubt that ‘early’ was not what they had in mind.
Amrothos however joined in the conversation. He had a definite dreamy expression on his face, “I would like to go not long after dawn and show Nienna how the early sun hits Mt. Mindolluin.”
Erchirion choked on air and stared at his brother as if he had just suggested walking back to the Black Gates. “You had better not go to bed then,” he snapped, “with the trouble we usually have getting you up in the mornings.”
Éomer guessed that Erchirion was finding this new Amrothos difficult to deal with. The youngest prince suddenly stood up and he realised that the ladies must be returning. He turned around to find himself face to face with Imrahil’s daughter. She smiled at him in that lovely open way and he had to remember to breathe. The music had not yet started but he was going to waste no more time, “Nessa, I believe we agreed to have the first dance.”
To be continued.
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.