6. An evenful afternoon
Able to show my feelings at last, I slammed the door behind me with considerable force: preferred books to people, indeed! Never be happy here! I certainly wouldn’t if they made it plain they did not want me. It was not my idea to be Queen of Rohan, for Valar’s sake! The slamming of the door relieved my irritation momentarily, but of course I immediately felt ashamed of my lack of decorum. Luckily Aerin was not there to witness it. I strode across the room and sat down heavily on the bed, taking a few deep breaths to compose myself. Hadn’t I expected something like this? Éowyn had warned me, after all. I could cope if my intended husband wanted me here, and from what I had gathered it looked as though he did. I would just have to get on with it. Sighing with resignation and determined to put it from my mind, at least for the present, my eyes fell on my wedding dress. Having been taken from its protective cover it was revealed in all its glory. If the Rohirrim thought they were getting an exotic princess from the south for their queen, then I would be happy to prove it to them. I briefly thought about wearing one of my other gowns, but almost instantly dismissed the idea, they would have to accept me as I was or not at all. I stood back up and went over to my dress, running my hand gently down its length. Aerin had made a good job of removing the stay stitching and freshening up the crimping. My mother had originally bought the fine rose-pink silk fabric from the traders that plied our shores in times of peace. The design was almost exclusive to the noble ladies of Belfalas and could only be made from such delicate materials as came from the far south. The whole of the garment had been pleated - ironed and stitched into narrow folds that were caught in a band at the neck and then fell to the floor. The sleeves were likewise crimped, but the pleats were stitched a little way down the upper arm before hanging loose to the wrist. I reached in the wardrobe and brought out the corsage that would be worn over the dress. The silk for this garment a deeper shade of pink, and cut to mould to my body. Three thin layers of material sewn together with diagonal lines of gold thread to produce a honeycomb effect and tiny seed pearls painstakingly sewn at the cross-sections by the Gondorian dressmaker. A rich opulent garment that I knew it became me.
A quick tap at the door made me turn around, but thankfully only Aerin entered.
“Well, my lady. The ceremony definitely won’t be outside.” She eyed the corsage I had in my hand. “At least you won’t have to cover that lovely thing up.” A deep pink surcoat went with my wedding outfit, but I agreed with her – it would not be needed indoors.
“It is still bad, is it?” I asked, sitting back down on the bed.
“Bad? I have never seen rain like it. It is almost chaos in the hall with so many soaking wet guests arriving. Many have travelled overnight, as evidently Éomer King did not want you to be overwhelmed by hordes of strangers yesterday. Most were hoping to come straight into the hall but they are so wet that the citizens are having to open up their houses to give them somewhere to dry off. Even so, there are plenty clustering around the fire in the hall. The place is steaming. The servers are trying to lay the tables with everyone in the way, and that’s not easy. I think it has been decided that the most important nobles line the centre aisle and everyone else stays in their seats. The ceremony will take place on the dais in front of the top table and then you and Éomer King walk up and down the aisle to meet everybody. After that, everyone sits to eat and there is some entertainment throughout the meal As soon as the light goes Lady Byrhtwyn will give me a signal and I will leave to prepare the bedchamber and you, my lady, follow at sunset.”
“How will I know it’s sunset in all this gloom, or do I just guess?”
“No doubt the candles in the sconces and on the tables will already be lit but there is a big candle on a stand just inside the door and that one is not lit until sunset. Every night a doorward comes to light it.” Aerin stared out through the window at the murk, “I don’t know how they will know the right time on a day like this.”
“I hope I notice then,” I muttered, causing Aerin to laugh. But of course I would notice. I would probably be on tenterhooks waiting for the man to appear with the taper. I sighed; I could not put it off much longer: marriage crept inexorably up on me. I looked across to Aerin, she was watching me closely so I smiled, stood up and said brightly. “It must be about time to get ready. What are we going to do with my hair?”
I am sure Aerin relaxed, whether she expected me to make some kind of fuss, I did not know, but she must be aware of the opinions of the Meduseld housekeeper if no-one else. However, I would not be put off by being made to feel unwelcome as besides it being against my nature to show my anxiety and concern, I had come to think Éomer King quite capable of fighting any battles I could not win for myself. He, at least, had prepared for my coming.
“Well, my lady, now that wedding is to be indoors you will not have to wear it all braided up. We can make two braids each side, twist and pin them together and then make a four plait down your back. The rest can be loose which will cover the lacings of the corsage and the braids around your head will help support the crown.”
“That sounds like a good idea; it won’t take so long to undo tonight either.” I still hadn’t thought what to do with it when I went to bed as I had no idea what a man would expect. Maybe one could put it in a net after years of marriage but certainly not on a wedding night.
I sat down at the small table while Aerin went to work on my hair: she rubbed in the smallest amount of my favourite oil to make it more manageable and set to work with skilled fingers. “Do you wish me to weave in some ribbons?” she asked through a mouthful of pins.
“I rather think it will be too much, what with the corsage and the crown. Don’t you agree?”
Aerin stopped, comb in hand, and looked over to my wedding outfit. I had decided on pink because I thought I should be standing between Éomer and my father and pink looked well with both dark blue and green, I guessed that the King of Rohan would be wearing his signature colour, anyway. King Elessar, who would hear our vows, usually wore grey or black, so all-in-all I did not think my choice could be faulted. And, as it had turned out, it would brighten up a grey day. I had chosen gold thread for the embroidery because I knew the crown would be gold, and pearls because they were part of my heritage and were delicate – like the dress.
“Yes, I think you are right, my lady.” Aerin agreed turning back to her task, “You do not need any other embellishment.” She finished fixing the braids around my head and then deftly twined all four together down my back. “I will use a gold ribbon to tie the bottom, I think,” she said as she held the end of the plait together and reached for the ribbon box.
“I‘ll find one,” I told her, rummaging in the small inlaid chest, “don’t let go now.” I handed her a length of gold satin and she swiftly tied off the heavy braid. “Can you hold it up, my lady, while I brush the hair underneath?
My hair done, I slipped off my robe and reach for the perfumed oil, dabbing a little on my pulse points. “Let it dry a minute before you put on the dress,” Aerin warned me.
Wearing just my silk chemise, I passed a few moments staring out at the unceasing rain, refusing to liken it to tears of desolation. It would not always rain and I would not always be unwelcome. My determination strengthened: my future life was here, in Rohan, and I would not consign it to misery and despair.
“I think you can put it on now, my lady,” Aerin recalled me from my musing holding out the exquisite dress. The vee shaped neckline was cut quite low so it slipped over my head easily. She tweaked it straight carefully and then reached for the corsage. The sleeveless garment hugged my figure tightly, pressing the delicate crimped silk of the dress against my torso. Laced tightly between my shoulder blades, it fell to hip level, cut into a gentle curve back and front, allowing the skirt of the dress to float free. Aerin took a while to finish the fastening and arrange my hair down my back before fetching matching slippers.
“There,” she stood back to admire the effect. “It looks much more daring without the surcoat.”
I went over to the corner of the room to check in the mirror, gently twirling around to look at myself. The skirt moved with me, the thin pleated material clinging to my form. The corsage hugged my upper body and pushed up my breasts to show a reasonable amount of cleavage. Perfectly acceptable in Gondor but suddenly a stirring of unease sniped at me. Was it too indecorous for Rohan? “Do you think it looks too immodest, Aerin?”
“I expect that old sour puss will think so, but I imagine Éomer King will love it,” she replied bluntly.
I giggled, which made Aerin join in with me. Our ranks might be far apart but only months in age separated us. We were still giggling when there was a knock at the door and Aerin opened it to Lady Byrhtwyn.
She came into the room at my maid’s invitation and stopped dead a few feet from me. I started to feel uncomfortable wondering if I had been right and the dress perhaps a little too unseemly but she slowly nodded her head up and down as if she had just been made aware of something. “Well, my lady, I don’t think there will be many wondering now why our king asked for your hand.”
I opened my mouth to deny this, convinced he would never have offered had he not received a nudge the size of a mûmak from my king and my father, but I closed it again swiftly. So much the better if that misapprehension was allowed to stand. “Is it suitable Lady Byrhtwyn?” I asked instead. “It will be too hot to wear the surcoat.”
“I think it’s very suitable, my lady. We have not had a queen for many years and we hoped that when we did she would be worthy of the honour. It would not do for you to look the same as every other woman.”
Surprised and relieved, I decided to think no more about it and asked pleasantly. “Is it nearly time?”
“Yes, my lady that is why I came. Most of the guests are here, a few are missing but that is probably due to the weather. We cannot put the ceremony back to wait for them. Éomer King has bathed and will be ready shortly and your father will come as soon as all are in their places.”
“I will finish my toilet then, I will just be a few minutes.”
Byrhtwyn gave me a small bow and left the room leaving Aerin to fix the pearl choker around my neck and apply a little rouge to my lips. My long dark lashes and well defined eyebrows didn’t usually need any kohl but today Aerin stroked a line along my upper lids. “There,” she said, admiring her handiwork, “you look beautiful, my lady. I just hope these Rohirrim appreciate what they are getting.”
“Thank you, Aerin,” I clasped her hand and gave it a grateful squeeze. “Now you had better go and take your place.” She nodded and removed the tabard that she was wearing over her blue linen dress. I will collect this later,” she smiled as she folded it neatly and put it on the bed. Turning back to me she grinned, “Is my hair neat, my lady?”
“Yes, you are lucky; your curls always look nice.”
“I will go then. I am right down the end by the door so I will have to squeeze past all the lords and ladies.”
“They won’t mind. Do you know what to say?” Aerin nodded, I had taught her a few words of Rohirric during the time we were in Dol Amroth.
When she had gone, the window drew me back. It still rained, and I wondered if there would be any flooding at the bottom of the hill. Trying to keep my mind occupied I started going over the words I would have to speak. They were not many: the Rohirrim were people of deeds and action, flowery speeches did not appear to be part of their make up. I cast my mind back to Eowyn’s wedding: she had had to learn a lot more, but she had looked, and indeed been, so happy. I did not feel at all happy and it would need considerable effort to hide my unease. But putting on a brave face was part of my education, so I succeeded in smiling when I opened the door to my father.
The glow on his own face showed clearly that I looked fit for the role he had chosen for me. In fact, unusually for him, he was reduced to silence for a moment. Then, after a short reverie, he sort of shook his head and said softly, “Well, Lothíriel. I thought I would never say it, but you rival your mother on our wedding day.”
It was a stupid thing to say and he realised it at once. Not only did the mention of my mother always upset me, but they had been desperately in love. He put his arm around me and kissed me gently on the forehead, “I am sorry, I did not mean to distress you. I spoke without thought.”
“No matter,” I said bleakly, trying to hold on to my composure as his arm tightened round me. “You are right to remember her on a day like today. It is as bad for you as it is for me.” I reached up and kissed him on his cheek, “Shall we go?”
He nodded and tucked my arm in his. We got as far as the atrium before he stopped. “Lothíriel, you are shaking.” My father searched my face but I could say nothing. “I know it would have been nice for you to have a love match,” he said sighing softly, “but your mother and I were lucky. It is rare in our position. You must not worry, my dear, I trust Éomer implicitly. He will treat you with all consideration and respect. I would not countenance this if I had any doubts about that.”
“I know. It will be fine. I am bound to have a few nerves, Father.”
The door opened to the hall and I stepped through. The first thing that hit me - the aura of damp; the second - the sight of my tall bridegroom who turned to look at me as those who were sitting rose to their feet. As I had expected, the King of Rohan was resplendent in a dark green tunic emblazoned by a leaping white horse, and on his head he wore a golden crown. He looked, I could not deny, magnificent. My father led me up the few steps to the dais and Éomer walked towards me and held out his hand. I put mine in his, flushing, as his eyes opened wide and a soft smile spread slowly across his face. His hand was warm and large and my own felt very small. I fruitlessly tried to stop my fingers from trembling. He bent down slightly to speak quietly in my ear and his hair, still damp, brushed my cheek. “You look beautiful, my lady. I am honoured you consented to this.”
His deep voice caressed me, wrapping an aura of protection around my nervousness like a velvet cloak. So unexpected, and good of him, to try and normalise the situation, that I smiled back to show my appreciation. My soon-to-be husband gently squeezed my hand and led me to stand in front of King Elessar. I took a few unobtrusive steadying breaths and prepared to focus on the ceremony. We waited for those at the tables to sit down; the only ones who remained standing was the party on the dais. This included my brothers and some Rohirric dignitaries, one of whom I recognised as Marshall Elfhelm, having met him in Minas Tirith. The sea of faces in the main hall appeared as a blur to me. As the shuffling ceased, except for the noise of the rain battering against the high windows, Meduseld became ominously quiet.
King Elessar, after a nod from Éomer to show we were ready, turned to the hall and started on an opening speech. First in Westron and then in Rohirric, he thanked all for coming and talked a little about his friendship with Éomer and Rohan and his reliance on my father and the loyalty of Dol Amroth. My organisational skills, my role in the war and my suitability for the position of Queen all remarked upon with grace and skill. This finished, he beckoned us forward. At that moment that I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye - something small and white unobtrusively worked its way along the side of the dais. As it reached the bottom of the steps I realised it was a small terrier dog. Not thinking it would matter I looked back towards the king but before he could take our hands a ferocious snarl came from behind me. I had not reckoned on Hasopad, who had turned into a quivering muscled mass of canine fury and now guarded the dais against all comers. The terrier, not realising the threat to his life, or perhaps just not acknowledging the difference in fighting weights, curled his lip contemptuously and put a paw on the first step. The resulting fracas was only stopped by my not-yet-husband lifting his lurcher bodily off of the ground and bellowing loudly into the recalcitrant dog’s ear. He then removed the small white body from vice-like jaws. The owner, a Rohír of gargantuan proportions, retrieved his dog from Éomer’s hands and confirmed that it still lived - blessed with a thick rough coat, he had only been taken by his scruff. Hasopad, duly chastised, slunk away to take his place behind his master’s chair but the terrier, realising it had survived, was determined to continue the bout and loudly screamed obscenities all the way to the outer doors.
Éomer randomly brushed down his tunic - it now presented a speckled appearance, white and grey hairs giving it an individual look - took my hand again and said conversationally, “Shall we continue?”
I heard a stifled laugh behind me and guessed that Amrothos found it hard to contain himself. How extremely satisfying that my wedding provided such amusement. The look of incredulity on the faces of those who had come from Gondor was matched perfectly by the looks of complete unconcern displayed by the Rohirrim present. King Elessar, however, took all in his stride and asked me politely if I felt ready to make my vows. I suppose I did, but I never got the chance because after Éomer had said his, the door to the hall flew open with a loud crash.
“No! No! I will announce myself.” The doorward, tried in vain to restrain the entrant, but was pushed aside by a short stocky figure who, as soon as he got through the door, stopped and shook himself. Hair and beard flew in different directions showering everyone in the vicinity with droplets of water.
“It’s wet out there,” Gimli announced at the top of a very loud voice. He moved forward as if looking around for a seat and only then did I realise that Prince Legolas followed on behind him. I had met them both at my cousin’s wedding and was struck then by the unlikely friendship, but never had the difference been so marked: Gimli was short, stout, hairy, loud and wet; Legolas was tall, slim, clean shaven, quiet and dry. The elf must have achieved the dryness, I observed, by the wearing of the thin grey cloak he carried over his arm. In contrast to Gimli, who strode grimly down the centre aisle looking intent on thrusting some unfortunate soul from their rightful place, Legolas glided behind him with a benign smile on his fair face.
My father’s sigh of resignation, the sparkle of amusement in the eyes of Gondor’s king, and the chuckle of mirth from the lord of Meduseld, told more than words the affection in which these unlikely two were held. I tired to let it all wash over me, wondering if perhaps the Valar were playing tricks and next, the roof would collapse from the weight of water and I would not be married that day at all.
Lady Byrhtwyn forestalled any unceremonious ejections by rising and directing the latecomers to the seats near the dais that had been saved for them. Gimli apologised three times for interrupting, requested a cloth to wring out his beard, and then, just as the rest of the guests had started to mummer for ale, stood up and announced, “You can carry on now.”
“Thank you,” said King Elessar, straight faced and bowing slightly. “Perhaps, Éomer, you would not mind saying yours vows again.”
“I do not mind repeating them,” my almost-husband concurred.
This time nothing happened to stop the bonding. Even my thumping heart had no effect on the joining of two strangers and, as in a dream, I knelt on a green velvet cushion while my new husband placed a golden crown on my head.
A/N The description of Lothíriel’s dress is taken directly from Medieval Costume and Fashion by Herbert Norris. This kind of Bliaut and Corsage was first worn by Western women who followed the Crusades and had access to the fine materials of the East. LBJ
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