4. Imrahil's Table
Mithrellas was a hand-maiden of Nimrodel, who was lost when she fled Lórien. She was taken in by Imrazôr the Númenórean and bore him a son, Galador, from whom the Princes of Dol Amroth are descended. Ever after, it was held that they were fair of face and noble in speech and manner.
(Turgon: A brief history of Gondor)
He had a nice voice. It was rich and deep and Lothíriel had no doubt that he wouldn't have the slightest difficulty making himself heard over the battlefield, yet at times it also became low and warm - like when he had talked of his sister. And she had been wrong: there was just the faintest trace of a Rohirric lilt in it.
Lothíriel liked to imagine that voices had colours. Her father's was a silvery grey, elegant and cultivated, while Amrothos's was a fiery orange, quick and cutting at times. Then there was the deep amber of Elphir and the calm blue of Erchirion. As for the King of Rohan - it was red, she decided, but so dark as to be almost black and perhaps with a glint of gold in it. He was a king, after all.
And she would be well advised to remember that fact. He had been amazingly kind about her cavalier treatment of him, but she would really have to be careful to be more polite in the future. Her father had been flustered when she had come in from the garden with King Éomer. No doubt he had intended to smooth the way, and to prepare his ally carefully for the fact of his only daughter's blindness. The men were talking with each other now, and King Éomer had just accepted an invitation to dine with them tonight.
An insistent hand tugged at her sleeve. "Aunt Lothíriel," Alphros whispered. "Are you coming?"
Before she had a chance to answer, her sister-in-law interrupted. "Now, Alphros," Annarima said, "don't pester your auntie. It's time for you to go upstairs."
Lothíriel knew that her nephew was expected to eat his dinner in the nursery and then go to bed early. When he visited his grandfather in Dol Amroth that iron rule was often relaxed, but it looked like that would not happen in Minas Tirith.
"But it's important!" he protested. "I want to show her something."
"Being clean is more important," his mother replied. "Look at you, you urgently need a bath. You can show her in the morning."
"But by then it might be too late!" Alphros wailed.
His mother hissed at him to keep his voice down.
"I will come and see you briefly after dinner," Lothíriel offered as a compromise, "and you can tell me about it."
"Oh, very well," Annarima conceded ungracefully, "but first you're having that bath, young man. Look at you, you're a disgrace with dog hairs all over you."
Lothíriel stiffened. No doubt she was covered in Ernil's hairs, too, and her sister-in-law would have liked to send her upstairs as well. Annarima knew better than to say anything openly in Prince Imrahil's hearing, though.
Amrothos had stepped up beside her unnoticed. "I have to say, Annarima, it does seem that your son is rather dirty," he commented in a silky voice. "You really have to see that you keep our house cleaner."
"I keep my house spotless," her sister-in-law snapped back, readily falling into the trap laid for her.
"Not if it's got dog hairs all over it," Amrothos pointed out with perfect logic. "Will you take my arm, sister?" he asked. "We're going in to dinner."
Lothíriel took the proffered arm, but sighed inwardly. She was perfectly capable of fighting her own battles and in fact preferred to do so. When she pointed this out to her brother in a low voice, he just laughed.
"But that's one battle I love to fight," he chuckled. "It's so pitifully easy to get a raise out of that icicle."
"You're not making things any easier for Elphir," she remonstrated. It had been plain to her for some time that the allure of Annarima's beauty had faded for her eldest brother, but he was loyal to his wife and had even moved to Minas Tirith when it became clear that she did not get along with the rest of his family.
"Try to at least be polite," she pleaded as he settled her in her place at the table.
Amrothos just laughed. "Only as long as she's polite to me. Enjoy your dinner, little sister," he added, "you're on father's left, across from the guest of honour."
"Oh no," she groaned. Annarima would not be at all pleased to be displaced from her usual place, but her father liked to keep an eye on his daughter at all times, even if it meant that his heir's wife would be relegated further down the table.
"Something amiss, my lady?" a warm voice enquired behind her.
Lothíriel nearly fell off her chair. The man seemed to move with the stealth of a large hunting cat and she had not heard him approach at all.
"No, nothing," she assured the King of Rohan, only to realize that he might well have overheard her brother's last words and assume she was reluctant to sit facing him. There was no way she could explain her reasons just now, though, so she just had to leave it and smile up at him apologetically. This was a trick that had taken her a long time und much practice to acquire, but by now she was a pretty good judge of where somebody's face was. Many people at first didn't even realize that she could not see them, once she had pinpointed the direction their voice was coming from. She had certainly fooled the King of Rohan, even though she had not even known it at the time.
Chairs scraped to either side of her, letting her know that the other people had arrived. She identified Elphir's voice to her left with Amrothos beyond him, so Annarima was presumably sitting next to King Éomer. Then the servants arrived with basins of water to wash their hands in and she had to concentrate on not spilling any of it. The trick was not to make any hasty movements. She had found that out to her chagrin in the past.
The first hurdle taken, she surreptitiously felt for the location of her plate and cutlery, before folding her hands safely in her lap while the servants poured the wine and served the first course. She hadn't had the opportunity to memorize the menu earlier on, so she wasn't sure what she was being served. It was onion soup, and she was a bit surprised that her father didn't just wave it away for her, as he usually did, but apparently talking to his guest distracted him. Not that she minded, but it meant that she had to concentrate so much on the difficult task of ferrying the liquid to her mouth, that at first she did not pay much attention to what was being discussed between her father and King Éomer. It was only when she heard her own name mentioned that she pricked up her ears and carefully lowered her spoon.
Apparently the King of Rohan had not forgotten his promise to arrange for her to visit his sister at their camp.
"I could come and pick up Princess Lothíriel tomorrow morning," he was just suggesting, "and I promise to deliver her home safely again afterwards."
"I don't know..." her father hesitated.
"Oh please, may I go?" Lothíriel pleaded, for she dearly would have liked to meet the famous Lady Éowyn.
"I'm not sure," her father said. "You've had a long, tiring journey. Surely you should have a rest tomorrow."
Lothíriel was well used to her father overestimating her frailness. Ever since her long recovery after her accident, he had been convinced she needed to be constantly watched, and even the slightest cough had him send for a healer.
"We travelled the whole way on the boat, so I'm not tired," she pointed out, "and I would like to have the opportunity to meet Lady Éowyn before the wedding."
"My sister would be very pleased as well to make the princess's acquaintance," King Éomer added smoothly.
Her father capitulated. "Very well," he conceded, "but there is no need to put you out, Éomer. Amrothos will oblige."
Her brother grumbled slightly at this arbitrary decision, but then wisely decided it was useless to protest, once their father had made up his mind. The talk then turned to the festivities planned for the wedding, which would take place in five days' time. The Rohirrim would be showing their skill on horseback and there would be dancing and music.
"Now that we're at peace with Harad, the fair is full of traders and entertainers from the south," Elphir remarked. "I think anybody with anything to sell has made it to Minas Tirith."
"Oh, could I go?" Lothíriel asked.
The men laughed, but Annarima sniffed disdainfully. "It's mostly cheap trumpery and you can hardly move for the press of people."
Prince Imrahil seemed to agree with her. "You wouldn't like it," he said. "It's far too crowded."
Lothíriel lowered her head in disappointment and concentrated on her food once more. She had looked forward to going to the fair and had hoped there might be bards and storytellers, hopefully with new tunes and tales. However, the tone in her father's voice told her he would not be moved by entreaties just now, and she had to content herself with the thought that she might still talk her youngest brother into taking her with him.
"My sister intends to go and see the fair," King Éomer said after a short pause. "Maybe Princess Lothíriel would like to accompany her. I assure you they will be perfectly safe with a guard of my riders."
It looked like she had found an unexpected ally. Lothíriel lifted her head with fresh hope, but her father declined the offer.
"That's very kind of you, Éomer," he said in a firm voice, "but it isn't necessary to inconvenience your sister."
And although the King of Rohan insisted it would be no inconvenience at all, he did not press the point, perhaps sensing it was not the right moment. The soup plates were now removed and the first meat course served. Lothíriel picked up her knife to carefully feel the edge of whatever meat it was, only to find that it had already been cut up into bite-sized pieces. Irritation flashed through her. After all she was no child anymore and perfectly capable of cutting her own meat. Then she sighed. She knew her father meant well, it was just that while he had been away during the war, she had grown used to more freedom and autonomy. Now it sometimes irked her, to have to conform to all the old customs again.
When she paid attention to the conversation again, it had moved on to horses, perhaps not unnaturally with the king of the Rohirrim as a guest. Amrothos was just quizzing him about his stallion.
"Are you still riding that grey warg you had on the Pelennor?" he asked.
"Firefoot?" King Éomer laughed. "I do indeed. He would probably gore whatever other horse I'd try to ride. He gets jealous."
"Is it true what they say about the steeds of the Rohirrim," Lothíriel asked, "that they are more intelligent than other horses?"
"We believe so, at least those descended from the Mearas."
"What are Mearas?" she asked, intrigued.
"They are a race of horses descended from Eorl the Young's white stallion Felaróf," the King of Rohan explained, warming to his subject. "It was said of him that he understood the speech of men. They are long-lived and fleet of foot and will only answer to the Lord of the Mark or his sons."
"Sometimes your stallion seemed more like a faithful hound than like a horse, the way he followed you around and guarded your back," her father observed.
"The stallions are trained to guard our herds," King Éomer said, "and they are better at it than any guard dog."
"So you don't keep any dogs?" she asked.
"Oh, we do," he replied. "But mostly to guard our homesteads or up in the mountains where it is sheep country. In fact our sheep dogs look a lot like your nephew's dog. They come in very useful."
Annarima sniffed disdainfully. "Unlike my son's dog then," she said, "it just eats its own weight in meat each day."
This touched Lothíriel on a sore spot. "Ernil is useful," she fired up. "He would defend Alphros with his very life."
"Let's not go into that," her father interrupted her hurriedly. "You see, Lothíriel and Alphros saved the dog from being killed, the last time my grandson stayed with us in Dol Amroth," he explained to his guest.
"He was only a puppy and they were going to drown him." Lothíriel still felt outrage at the memory of the scene they had chanced upon. Alphros had told her that some children had a dog tied up in a bag and were about to throw him in the stream that flowed by the castle.
"I gave them a piece of my mind as well!" There was so much vehemence in her voice that all the men laughed.
"You and your strays! What else are people supposed to do with all those surplus puppies and kittens?" Annarima asked. "They can't possibly keep them all."
Lothíriel had very definite ideas on this. "They should see to it that the surplus puppies don't get born in the first place," she declared. "It would be much more humane to just have the dogs castrated when they're little."
There was a choking sound from Annarima's direction and a short silence descended. Belatedly, it dawned on Lothíriel that she had just introduced what could only be considered a highly unsuitable topic, about which young ladies were not supposed to know anything. She could feel blood flooding her cheeks, but decided to go into the offensive.
"So what do you do in Rohan?" she asked their guest. There was a quickly suppressed snort of laughter from Amrothos, so she said nothing more. Her defiance did not go so far as to make her add that since the Rohirrim gelded their horses, he must have some idea of the technicalities involved.
"I'm not sure," he replied. "I've never really considered the question, but I promise to make enquiries into it when I get back." His voice was serious, but she was pretty certain there was a hint of laughter in it.
There was another brief silence, then her father asked a question about a mutual acquaintance, which the King of Rohan answered readily. Rescued in this way, Lothíriel mentally decided to keep silent for the rest of the meal or else to stick to the weather.
The next course was chunks of vegetables in a thick sauce of mixed spices. This was a delicacy from the south and one of Lothíriel's favourites. On her tour round the house she had stopped off at the kitchen, still ruled over by Aerin, and had had a chat with the old woman. It looked like the cook still remembered her partiality to the hot food so common in the far south of Gondor. It did make you thirsty, though. Lothíriel reached for her glass of wine.
It wasn't there.
She was sure she had placed it just to the right of her plate the last time she had taken a sip, yet now it was gone. With some exasperation, Lothíriel wondered if her father had removed it. He had the annoying habit of absentmindedly repositioning anything within her reach that he thought she might spill. Very slowly she brushed one hand across the table in the general direction of her father. The tablecloth was soft under her fingers and the only obstacle she encountered was the saltcellar. There was no sign of her wineglass, and by now she was convinced that everybody at the table was watching her covertly, although the conversation around her went on uninterrupted.
Finally, she encountered the smooth stem of her glass. Then she froze, as she suddenly touched warm fingers as well. The glass was being gently pushed towards her, but she was so surprised that she withdrew her fingers with a sudden move. The result was predictable and nothing new to Lothíriel.
Fortunately, she had been issued with an extra large napkin and was able to soak up most of the wine before it reached the edge of the table. The servants were well trained and converged on her from all sides, cleaning up the rest of the spill, bringing her a fresh napkin and refilling her glass.
"I'm sorry," she exclaimed, annoyed with herself for causing a commotion at her very first meal back in Minas Tirith.
"It's my fault, I'm afraid," the King of Rohan apologized. "I shouldn't have pushed your glass towards you."
Lothíriel hadn't realized it was him. She thought that if anybody was to blame for her mishap, it was her father. It was he who must have removed her glass, but she refrained from saying so. Anyway, she was used to apologizing.
"It was clumsy of me," she replied. "I should know by now not to make any sudden moves."
She was just congratulating herself on this diplomatic answer when Annarima exclaimed with evident distress.
"Your shirt, my Lord King!" she cried out. "The sleeve is completely soaked in wine."
Lothíriel's heart sank. Now she had ruined his shirt as well. Somehow her dealings with the King of Rohan seemed to turn from bad to worse.
"I'm so very sorry. Can it be washed?" she asked.
"Please don't worry, my lady," he tried to reassure her. "It's only a small stain."
"A small stain?" Annarima asked in disbelief. "Why, you'll have to replace the whole sleeve if you want to salvage it."
"Nonsense," Amrothos exclaimed.
Lothíriel bit her lip. She could sense her father was displeased with her, even though he hadn't said anything. But what could she do? She couldn't even offer to replace the sleeve, for the quality of her sewing was very far from what a king was surely accustomed to.
King Éomer laughed. "Please, Lady Annarima, this is nothing," he said. "You should have seen me when I returned from the march to the Black Gate. I did in fact have to borrow fresh clothes from your husband."
"You did?" Lothíriel asked. This was news to her, for her brothers talked very little of their experiences during the war.
"I only had the tunic I wore when we left Edoras," he explained, "for we had decided to ride as light as possible. So by the time I had been through two battles, not even the washerwomen would touch it."
Lothíriel grinned. "So what happened to it?"
"I didn't enquire too closely into its fate, but I think it was burnt," he answered.
The others laughed and Amrothos offered a funny story of what had happened to his clothes one night in Cormallen, when he'd had too much to drink and gone for a walk along the river. The talk then turned to reminiscences of the war and Lothíriel heaved a sigh of relief.
Even though the meal wasn't over yet, she soon after excused herself and retired upstairs to pay the promised visit to her nephew. It had been a long and exciting day and she was looking forward to a good night's sleep. Surely she had caused enough disasters for one day.