4. An understated welcome
Rohan - September 3020
Aelfric’s wife dropped a graceful curtsey but then held out her hand for her king to graze his lips over it, which he did so with obvious pleasure. A lovely hand, I noticed, slim and delicate, just like its owner. Helwing was like, but unlike, Éowyn. She had even fairer hair, almost silver in fact, and her features were finely chiselled, as if some artist had sculpted her. She looked fragile and feminine but she had a lovely open smile for me.
“My lady, welcome,” she greeted me as soon as the introduction had taken place, before turning to receive King Elessar and my father who were coming up behind us. Once the formalities were done with she led us into a sizable hall where some tables had been laid out with various drinks and some small cakes.
It was my first time inside a Rohirric dwelling and I looked around with interest. The stone walls were hung with multicoloured hangings, mostly of battle scenes and horses, and skins were thrown on the floor. None of the intricate stonework of Minas Tirith, the blocks were small and plain here, but the wooden doors I could see were elaborately carved and great beams held up the vaulted roof.
Helwing drew me aside away from the others, encouraging me with a gentle smile and a slight movement of her silver-clad head. I went willingly, glad of a friendly face. “Would you like some wine, my lady, or there is a cordial made from the flowers of the elder tree?”
“I will try your cordial, Helwing,” I answered, smiling back at her. I took an earthen mug and put it to my lips. “Umm, it is very good. Did you make it?”
“Yes, I do every spring. It is stored it in stone bottles and lasts a while. The Elder tree is very useful; I make a rich wine from the berries at this time of the year.”
“The ladies of the Mark must be accomplished at using the fruits of the hedgerows; I have already tasted some blackberry cordial which I found very pleasant.”
“Oh, I expect Elfgyuu, made that. She is the housekeeper at Meduseld,” Helwing informed me.
“The first name I will need to remember then,” I said, sipping the drink and accepting a cake.
Helwing puckered up her face. “She has been there a long time and is very efficient, but she’s a bit of a dragon.” Placing one slim hand on my forearm she lowered her voice conspiratorially, “I hope you don’t mind me saying, my lady, but I would advise you to start as you mean to go on. Don’t stand any nonsense. She thinks the world of Éomer though, so she won’t want to upset him.”
I had the distinct feeling that Helwing would become a friend and although I would not normally discuss such an issue on so short an acquaintance, I took a chance. We were a little way apart from the others so I said softly, “Is she one who did not want a Gondorian at Meduseld?”
“Yes, and she has made no secret of it. It is nothing to do with her really; it’s just that she has been there so long. But evidently Éomer told her to keep quiet in no uncertain terms. He will not tolerate anything other than the proper welcome and respect due to his wife and queen.”
At least that was reassuring. I nibbled at the cake thoughtfully, “Are there many like that? Éowyn told me that I could have a few problems.” I might as well be prepared, not that I doubted my ability of dealing with most situations. My father had left me in charge during the Ring-war; it had been no easy task to rule the old men and soldiers left behind.
Helwing considered for a moment before answering with a small frown, “A few. I am not sure about Byrhtwyn. She has kept her own council, and so she should. But most have accepted it and Éomer King will always do as he wishes. There are also many, like Aelfric and I, who think your marriage makes sense. It pleased Aelfric when he heard about your betrothal. He thought you were very nice and would be good for Rohan. He said we could do with a bit of culture.”
I laughed out loud at this. “I am sure you do not need me for that.”
“Well,” Helwing echoed my laughter, “I for one will be pleased if you bring some refinement, something other than horses.”
“Don’t you like horses?” I asked somewhat surprised.
She wrinkled her very pretty nose. “Not very much. Very disconcerting of me don’t you think?” She grinned mischievously. “Oh, I can ride, of course,” she carried on, perhaps realising my slight disbelief at the revelation that a lady of Rohan didn’t like horses. “I will be able to come to Edoras to see you, but that’s about as far as I wish to go. Aelfric wanted us to get married and go Éowyn’s wedding together, but the thought of the journey and,” she gave an involuntary shudder, “all those creepy crawlies in the tents, put me off. So he went with his men and we were wed as soon as he returned.”
In fact it pleased me to think that not every lady in the Riddermark was a hardened rider and aped the men; I could not imagine this feminine creature wielding a sword. Nice to know I would not be alone in that. “Aelfric couldn’t stop talking about you when he danced with me,” I told her, and enjoyed the glow of pleasure that crossed her face.
“We have known each other since we were children, but it was only when he was about to ride to Gondor with Théoden King that we realised what we both felt. But we postponed getting married - what with his father being killed in the war and me being a bit young. He had to take over here and shoulder a lot of responsibility as we had to share the food we had with other parts of the Mark. We did not have an easy winter, so we felt we could not marry until things were better.”
“And they are now?”
“Oh, yes. The harvest is turning out to be the best for many years. The people will certainly have something to celebrate at your wedding tomorrow.”
That was a relief then – they would be happy about something. “Are you coming to Edoras for it, Lady Helwing?” I asked, keeping the rest to myself.
“Of course. Aelfric and Éomer are good friends. We are coming in the morning and will stay with my cousin.” A faint blush suffused her face, “I will be singing a Rohírric love song.”
“Oh, how lovely,” I responded, hoping she would be able to put some feeling into it by thinking about her own happy marriage rather than the arranged one being celebrated. I felt a touch on my arm before I could say anything else.
“We must leave, my lady. I want to arrive well before dark.” The velvet tone wafted a faint breath of air across my ear and caused a quiver of sensation to run through me. I suppose my nerves were slightly stretched which accounted for the unusual response to such a simple thing. “You will become better acquainted with Helwing, I am sure. We will be almost neighbours,” he continued.
“I hope so, my lord.” I clasped Helwing’s hand for a moment, “I have enjoyed talking to you, Lady Helwing. I expect we shall see you often at Meduseld.”
She dropped a curtsey and grinned. “I will be coming so often my riding is sure to improve.”
Éomer took my arm and drew it through his. “Did you find Helwing pleasant company, Lothíriel?”
“Yes, my lord I did. She surprised me. I thought all the ladies in Rohan would be keen and expert riders.”
“Most are, but not all. It is certainly convenient that you are so accomplished, but it would not have mattered if you were not,” he commented as he led me to my mount. Well, I stifled the chuckle that threatened to rise, that knocked one of Éowyn’s theories on the head. He had not agreed to this union because of my riding abilities.
The road between Upbourn and Edoras turned out to be smooth and well used, hugging the west bank of the fast flowing Snowbourne River. As we descended the tended fields, which had been cut into the mountainside gave way to a rough area of gorse and bushy trees with alders and birches dipping their roots into the clear waters. By some unspoken agreement King Elessar and my father had chosen to ride together leaving my soon-to-be husband and me to engage in much needed conversation and for me to study him more closely. It would have been better if I had been given the opportunity six months ago. Maybe if I had got to know him a bit better I would have been spared so much anxiety. Although, I found conversing with him quite easy and I enjoyed listening to his descriptions of other parts of Rohan, not quite sure, however, whether this was because of a natural interest in my future homeland or because the orator had such an attractive voice. I definitely found his voice fascinating and slightly compelling, something that surprised me. His hands also fascinated me: they were as large as I remembered, and looked even more so in the gauntlets he wore, but he held the reins with the lightest of touches. The lively young stallion he rode, which I guessed was not yet a fully trained warhorse, responded instantly to the almost imperceptible movements of fingers and legs and the occasional soft indecipherable command. But however undeniably handsome and interesting a man I had been betrothed to, a scant day’s conversation did not really prepare me for a wedding night, especially when one of the reasons he had given for agreeing to our bond was the prospect of enhancing the breeding stock! Unfair perhaps, as there had no doubt over the years been many arranged marriages between the high born of Gondor. Maybe I counted as better off than some: he was young, brave and possibly all the other things a woman would want in a husband but however suitable he might be, the traditions that compelled me to arrive on the eve of the wedding took no account of a bride and groom who knew virtually nothing of each other. I pushed down a sigh; useless to go on about it as it could not be changed. I concentrated on the scenery again.
The valley widened but still I could not see my future home. “When shall we see Edoras, my lord?” I asked as I searched ahead for some clue as to how far we still had to go. I was keen to see it but also, admittedly, I would be glad of some rest.
“We will come on it suddenly as we rounded the next bend.” He scanned me through narrowed eyes for a moment. “Are you tired, Lothíriel?”
I stretched my toes in my boots and pushed my bottom away from the saddle for some relief of the mild stiffness I was beginning to feel, “Yes, a bit. The five day trek has been the longest ride I have undertaken, although I have enjoyed it.”
“Well, it is not much further. There will be a meal waiting for us but there will be no formality tonight. You can dine in your room if you wish.”
“I think I can manage to stay awake long enough for a meal, my lord. I imagine there will be a few introductions to complete.”
“There certainly will,” he laughed, “and many more tomorrow. I thought you may be weary so I arranged that tonight you need only meet the household. The most important of those are the two women who have ruled my life since Éowyn left, Byrhtwyn and Elfgyuu. Elfgyuu is the housekeeper and has fed and watered those who live in Meduseld for years. She is training up her niece but I doubt she will be content to relinquish her position very easily. Byrhtwyn has been fulfilling the role that you will now take over….”
He stopped when he saw my expression and let out a loud guffaw of mirth, in which I could not help joining. I could not connect this man who now had laughter dancing in his eyes with the stern king I had beheld in Minas Tirith, “Those were the wrong words,” he said when our amusement ceased. “She is old enough to be my mother, maybe my grandmother. Since Éowyn went to Gondor she has been acting as um… the Hlafdige – the lady of the hall, a sort of hostess really. Elfgyuu, however efficient, is not able to meet and converse with noble visitors.”
“Éowyn told me about Byrhtwyn, she is very fond of her and they still correspond.”
“Yes, she was very good to Éowyn when we first came to Meduseld. Her husband, Háma, became the Captain of Théoden King’s household, but more than that he and Théoden were great friends. Háma lost his life at Helm’s Deep but Byrhtwyn remained at Meduseld to help me. She will be happy to retire but…” he hesitated.
“Do not worry, my lord;” I responded, guessing what he was about to say, “I will tread lightly on her feelings. I hope she will stay a while, until I am in the way of things.”
“Knowing what I do of you, Lothíriel, I doubt she will have to stay long. Although,” he said rather thoughtfully, “she would have been prepared to do so had I chosen to marry a lady not as suited as you to the role of queen. It was lucky that you have abilities in that way.”
Lucky? I thought that must be one of the reasons he had agreed to this, I could not believe it was just the blood lines. No matter, I admonished myself; I really must stop wondering why as it made no difference now. “I hope I can fulfil all that is required of me, my lord. I would be confident in Gondor but you have different ways.”
He shrugged, “I am not anticipating you will find too many problems. It will take you a little while to feel at home but I will help you and I understand you already speak our language quite well.”
“The basics only, I do not understand your horse commands, for instance.”
“No, they are quite special. I will teach you when you have a Rohírric horse….look you can see Edoras now.”
My eyes followed his pointing finger. Unnoticed by me, we had rounded the bend and I gained my first glimpse of Meduseld. The late afternoon sun, slanting through a gap in the Ered Nimrais, was bathing the top of the hill in a red-gold light. I could truly believe the tales of the golden courts of Edoras.
“Is the roof made of gold?” I asked, taking in the full beauty of the scene opening up before me.
He laughed. “If it was, we would probably have used it aeons ago. There are bits incorporated into the ridges and the door pillars are decorated with it, but the main part of the roof is thatched, as Saruman delighted in reminding us.”
I looked expectantly at him for clarification of such a remark, but he answered with a wry smile, “A story for another day, my lady.”
I nodded and turned back to the vista ahead. I could now see that there was a high stone wall surrounding the city and this fortification was topped by wooden ramparts and a spiked fence. Below the wall there looked to be a deep ditch. I searched for the entrance but could see no way in.
“The gates are around the other side,” Éomer answered me before the question was out of my mouth. “The road sweeps around to the ford and meets the road that comes from Gondor through Aldburg and then it goes straight for the gates through the burial mounds of our past kings.”
We soon reached the junction where the road from the Westfold crossed the Snowbourne and all three ways merged into one and turned towards the city gates, passing through the grassy burial mounds. We did not linger, all, including the horses, sensing food and rest. I knew I would have plenty of time in the years to come to wander in this peaceful place, where tiny white flowers clothed the barrows like drifting snow.
I understood that I was to ride into the city at Eomer’s side, my own king for once taking second place in this casual ceremony. The three standard bearers went before us and we approached the massive gates to the welcome of Rohírric horns. Many eyes were observing the entry of their future queen from the tops of the two watchtowers that flanked the entrance and I could see a reasonable crowd inside the gates.
Not a rousing greeting but at least a welcome and maybe the Rohírrim did not parade their emotions as the people of Gondor tended to do. I decided not to let it worry me: there was plenty of time to sell myself to my new people. I concentrated on showing a friendly smile, determined not to appear as some arrogant princess from a foreign land.
“Today we will ride up to the steps below the hall, Lothíriel. Normally we go directly to the stables but the people will want to see you.”
The way up was broad; the path made of hewn stone and it wound its way between neat wooden houses which got bigger and more elaborately decorated as we travelled upwards. Beside the road, clear water flowed in a stone channel and many houses had tubs of flowers outside their open doors. A number of citizens were lining the way and children peeked between mother’s skirts. The natural greeting seemed to be a quick bob of the head – none of the deep bowing prevalent in Gondor. I felt all eyes upon me.
We had to negotiate short runs of shallow steps but my mare, although I knew she was tiring after the long day, sensed the occasion and tripped boldly upwards, lifting her weary head and looking around with interest.
“Not long now, old girl,” my betrothed murmured, “it’s a warm mash for you and fresh straw.”
“If you don’t mind I would prefer a bowl of soup and linen sheets,” I replied, causing him to break into soft laughter. The mirth was no bad thing, giving a much better impression, I thought, than sombre faces.
We came at last to the bottom of a flight of stone stairs cut up through a green lawn. At the foot of the stair was a large stone carved in the likeness of a horse’s head and from this a stream of clear water gushed out and fell into a basin which spilled over to fill the stone channel. No shortage of clean water in this city. Boys were standing here, dressed in the same fashion as Léod and waiting to take our mounts. Éomer sprang from his horse and came around to assist me. As soon as a lad had gone to Zante’s head I neatly swung my right leg across her withers and arranged my skirts so that he could lift me down. I had decided that it was better to anticipate some informality and be prepared for it. Our eyes met before he deposited me on the stony path, the gleam in his gaze and the slight squeeze of his hands on my waist responsible for the heat I felt in my cheeks. But he said nothing and tucked my arm through his, leading me up the steps after issuing some orders as to the care of my mount.
The stair took us to a wide paved platform in front of the massive carved doors of Meduseld. As far as I could see the major part of building was fashioned from dark wood but there were towers at the corners made from stone and they rose higher than the main roof. Stone benches flanked each side of the entrance and the guards that sat upon them rose as we approached and held the hilts of their swords towards us. They were dressed much as Eomer’s mounted guard but were holding green shields emblazoned with the Rohan sun and their golden hair was braided. One stepped forward and spoke in his own language, of which I knew enough to recognise a traditional greeting. There were some words in Rohírric – too quick for me to understand - and we entered thorough the open doors into a narrow anteroom that looked to be the width of the body of the hall. Further doors opened into the hall itself and just inside these a tall grey haired woman was waiting next to a carved wooden table, on which were about a dozen small cups.
“Welcome, my lord King, my lady Princess,” she greeted us in perfect Westron and bobbed the smallest of curtseys, bowing her head slightly as she did so. “My lady, welcome to Meduseld. Please honour us by accepting this mead-cup.” Taking one of the small cups she passed it to me and then one to Éomer, uttering a salutation that I roughly translated as: ‘may this house shelter and succour you.’ I thanked her in my halting Rohírric and received a twitch of her lips in response. The cup in my hand was squat, with no stem and made of wood. Studying it closely, it did not surprise me to see that it had been embellished with carvings of horse’s heads. The rim was finished with decorative silver. The others were all similar and I guessed they were ceremonial and kept for this offering of drink. The cup held only a small amount of liquid and with silent encouragement from my betrothed I took a sip. It tasted strong and sweet, pleasant and warming. I finished the drink and the giver accepted the cup back from me, bowing her head again.
“It’s mead, my lady.” Éomer said as we moved past into the hall. “A traditional drink made from honey. Did you find it to your palate?”
“In a small quantity like that, yes I did.”
“Good.” I thought something amused him but the flash of humour in his eyes disappeared before I was sure. “It is only drunk like now as a welcome cup, or a fare-thee-well drink and as part of certain celebrations.” I imagined we would be drinking mead tomorrow in that case but failed to see why that should make him smile.
My father, the King, my brothers and those that came behind us all received a small cup; they were replenished by another grey haired lady standing behind the table holding a tray.
As soon as everyone had taken of the mead-cup Éomer introduced me to Byrhtwyn. I watched her expression carefully; reassuringly, her eyes reflected the smile on her lips. The smile on the lips that belonged to Elfgyuu stayed exactly where it was and traveled no higher.
“The meal is ready, my lady. You need not change your dress unless you wish to do so but I expect your would like to freshen yourself. I will lead you to the room that has been prepared for you tonight.”
“Thank you, Lady Byrhtwyn. I would like to wash but I will not change as I hope to retire as soon as I have eaten.”
Byrhtwyn bowed, “I have sent my granddaughter to show your handmaiden to her quarters. She can attend you after the meal.”
“Thank you.” I followed the tall figure down the length of the hall. It would have been quite dark as the windows appeared to be high up and the sun sinking fast, but besides the glow from the hearth built in the middle of the open space, each of the pillars we passed supported a large candle in an iron sconce. The sides of the hall were in shadow but I could see hangings as in Aelfric’s house. Here though, instead of the plain floor, the flickering light picked up richly colored tiles. Tables had been set at the far end, with one table set upon a raised dais.
“It is only the household eating this evening,” Byrhtwyn started to explain; “tomorrow the hall will be full to capacity.”
“What time will the ceremony take place?” I asked her.
“In the afternoon, my lady. Then the feast starts. It is normal for the meal to finish by sunset which is when the bride leaves.”
I swallowed. I hope that by this time tomorrow I would have found some courage. Otherwise I would need to drink heavily of the wine.
Byrhtwyn led me to the left of the dais, though a door which opened into a small hall. She opened one of the doors leading from it. “This is Eowyn’s old room, my lady. I am sure you will be comfortable here tonight.” We entered a square, paneled room, simply furnished. A smallish four posted bed graced the far wall and a decorated screen shielded one corner. The bright fire burning in the hearth gave the room a cozy feel. It was probably needed: the days were still warm but as we had traveled farther north I had noticed a definite chill in the night air. There was not much light left in the sky and Byrhtwyn walked over to the window to pull heavy tapestry curtains across. She indicated the screen, “The water will be warm, my lady. We put in here piping hot when you entered the city. Would you like me to arrange for you to take a bath before you retire?”
I plonked down on the bed for a moment, thinking it would be nice to get straight in it. “No, thank you. I had one last night. I would prefer one in the morning as I would like to wash my hair before the wedding. Traveling is so dusty.”
“There will be plenty of time for that tomorrow, my lady. I will show you the royal chambers as well. They are in the other tower.” She pointed to the opposite side of the building.
“I would grateful for that.”
She nodded, “I will leave you then….,”but she did not go straight away and gave me a sympathetic smile. “If you are tired I can bring you a tray.”
Tempting… but I really did want to try and establish some rapport with the man I was going to marry the next day, “No, I will eat with everyone else, thank you, lady Byrhtwyn; King Éomer said it will not be formal tonight.”
“That’s right, just the household. Come when you are ready, my lady. The men will probably only stop to wash their hands.” She turned to leave but as she put her hand on the door handle, paused and addressed me again. “It would be better if you got used to referring to him as Éomer King, my lady.”
I smiled compliantly, “Yes, of course. I shall take special care to do so.” A quick nod and she left. The door closed with a soft click, leaving me to wonder if she was slightly chastising me or her intention had been to make sure that I gave no one cause for criticism.
I was still sitting on the bed contemplating my new home when a sharp rap sounded at the door. “It’s only me, my lady.” I could not fail to recognize Aerin’s cheery voice.
“Come in, Aerin, the door is not locked.” The door opened with a bit of a bang. Aerin carried my two traveling bags, one in each hand “You should have asked for help,” I said rising to assist her.
“Oh, I can manage, my lady. I thought you might want your dressing case. I expect you would like me to brush your hair.”
“Yes, I would. How thoughtful of you when you must be so excited.”
She grinned. “I am my lady, but not too excited that I can’t do my job. If you have your wash I will unpack what you need for tonight.”
I nodded, and disappeared behind the screen to find soap and drying cloths laid out on a marble washstand. “Have they made you comfortable?” I called out, as I poured warm water in the bowl.
“Oh, yes, my lady. I am sharing a room with Heregyth, Lady Byrhtwyn’s granddaughter. She is to put me right on everything and show me where to find all that I need for you. It’s a cute room in one of the towers and we go up by a ladder.
“Yes, they only put the young ones up there, naturally. But just fancy, my lady, I am to take my meals in the hall like you. Everyone does. Up the other end of course, but I will be waited on.”
“That will be nice.” I emerged from behind the screen, grinning rather impishly to myself. “Make the most of it; you will soon have to be doing the cooking yourself.”
“Oh,” she waved her hand airily. “That will be no problem. I did that at home. Actually, my lady, it will be easy for just two. My mother often worked in the shop and I had to prepare the meal for all ten of us.”
I smiled; no wonder she could not wait to get away. “Right, lets get my hair brushed, because I am hungry and I am sure you are.”
When I got back to the main hall it was obvious that all were waiting for me. Éomer got to his feet and so did everyone else. He held out an ornate chair on his right between him and my father, King Elessar sat on his other side. The table on the dais also held my brothers, Lord Éothain and the Captains from Dol Amroth and Gondor plus an old man introduced to me as Lord Bertwald, who had been an advisor to Théoden and still lived in Meduseld. Byrhtwyn also had a seat but she remained standing to supervise the serving of the meal. Young boys were doing the fetching and carrying but she oversaw those who waited on the top table and I noticed that Elfgyuu took charge of the servers assigned to the other members of the household, comprising mostly of guards and their families, who were seated at the tables on the floor of the hall. Looking around for Aerin I saw that she was placed next to a pretty girl with bright gold hair she wore in two plaits, one each side of her head.
“Would you care for some wine, my lady?”
I started; I had been so engrossed in looking around me I had not noticed that, Eadric, the thin man who had served me at our midday picnic was standing behind me with a jug in his hand.
“Yes, thank you I would.” I leaned to one side so that he could reach over and fill my goblet and my eyes made contact with my betrothed, who was leaning back in his chair and watching me with the slightly wry expression that I was already starting to become familiar with.
“You are interested in everything,” he remarked when Eadric had moved on.
“Of course. It is similar but different from home. In Dol Amroth we are not as formal as in Minas Tirith but more formal than here, I feel. We do not have the young doing the serving, as you evidently do. We have specific servants for that.”
“It has always been so here, not the very high born, but the others have all taken a turn. Elfgyuu will call on however many she needs. But the Lady, the role Byrhtwyn is fulfilling for the moment, by tradition makes sure that everyone has enough to eat. She does not have to cook or serve herself, but it is her responsibility. It will be yours and I am sure you will manage admirably.”
“I did read about that,” I replied. I knew that I would need to take a close interest in the running of things. “That does not worry me….”I stopped suddenly, something or someone was rubbing against my leg. I still had my riding skirt and I realized that under the table my split skirt had opened up and I felt a pushing between my suede clad legs. With a thumping heart, I cautiously put my hand down with the intent of finding out what was going on without causing attention to myself. However, concern must have shown in my face.
“What is it?” Éomer asked, looking slightly troubled.
Something cold and wet thrust itself into my hand and I looked down transfixed as a long, thin, hairy, grey snout appeared on my lap.
“It’s a dog,” I said stupidly.
“Oh,” his face relaxed, “it’s Hasopad, my lurcher. He’s supposed to be behind my chair. He obviously wanted to say hello.”
My heart slowed down and I started to scratch the top of his head, soulful brown eyes regarded me in blissful silence.
Éomer watched for a moment, “You’ve sent him into a stupor. I am glad you like dogs, Lothíriel.”
“We have many at home. Mostly they live around the stables, but I had a terrier once that used to sleep in my room.” I grinned at him. “Unfortunately as he got older he started to snore.”
Éomer let out a chuckle, “Well, don’t worry. Hasopad sleeps in my study.”
“What about when you are not here, he must miss you terribly?”
“He is used to it. He spends all day by the fire; lurchers are inherently lazy and only rouse themselves if they see a rabbit or some other game. Once Elfgyuu has fed him he waits outside the door to my apartments until someone lets him in.”
At that moment a plate of food was put in front of me, Byrhtwyn had been dishing up a meat cobbler at the end of the table. Éomer clicked his fingers and at a quiet command, Hasopad pulled back his head. His warmth left me and the next minute he folded his long legs and curled into a surprisingly small ball, settling behind his master’s chair. I was glad Éomer had a dog that he slightly spoilt; to me anyway it said a great deal about my future husband’s character.
Dishes of hot vegetables were put on the table, but before we ate Éomer rose and made a short speech of welcome to his guests and future wife. His rich voice filled the hall with no noticeable effort. I imagined he would have no trouble making his himself heard on the battlefield or anywhere else.
Cheese and a blackberry fool followed the first course and I guessed the fine summer had produced a glut of hedge fruit. Perhaps that contributed to my betrothed’s change of demeanor from when I first met him, I surmised with an inward giggle. I could only hope the change turned out to be permanent.
I excused myself as soon as the meal finished, knowing that the men would probably stay late with many more goblets of wine and plenty to talk about. As I rose to go I noticed that some of the younger children were ushered out at the same time and realized that normally the meal would be earlier and must have been kept back for our arrival.
Aerin followed me to my room and I cleaned my teeth while she turned back the bed. Sitting quietly, whilst she undid my braids and brushed my long hair, before tucking it into its customary sleep-net, my thoughts went to my coming wedding night. As I said goodnight to her and got into bed I wondered whatever I would do with my hair. I lay between the cool sheets pondering on the problem, probably to stop me pondering on anything else concerning wedding nights. I had missed my mother dreadfully over the last few years but now, more than any other time; I wished she was here to hold my hand.
To be continued
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