1. Ripples, Part 1
Ripples, Part 1
She could not say what it was that made her set aside her widow's weeds that day, for it was as any other day. She stepped out on the balcony in the early morn to look toward the rising sun, and suddenly she never wanted to wear dark clothing again for the rest of her life. It may have been a delayed reaction to her son's departing words. Hirgilron had looked at her with his clear eyes before he left for Culumaldas, and said that he hoped he would find home a brighter place when he returned. Or it may have been the sound of a singing bird, reminding her that it was spring again, and that life in Ithilien was renewing itself. Or just the luxuriant feeling as she stretched out the night's kinks, her arms over her head and her back arched, for it seemed a long time since she felt any physical pleasure, even one so simple as this.
There were no gulls, although they were not uncommon visitors to these lands. If there had been then she might have decided later that she had been sent a sign. But there were no signs.
When she came into the great hall to take breakfast with her two youngest children, they looked on her pale dress with surprise, and Einda wondered aloud if this meant they could start having people over again. By "people" she meant Hiranion's youngest son Hiraldon, for Einda was much smitten with his polite ways and was forever telling both her brothers that they would never be gentlemen if they didn't act more like him. Eimar would scowl and call her names. Hirgilron usually remarked her brothers might not qualify as gentlemen, but then ladies didn't ride horses as if orcs still roamed the land and were in hot pursuit. That would bring the comparisons to a close for Einda was not about to be ladylike on a horse.
Her youngest children never believed her when Terisda told them there was little to choose between an orc and their cousin when he had been a child, even though Hirgilron had his own horror stories of childhood traumas involving Hiraldon that made orcs seem far more preferable company. Indeed, it was hard to reconcile the memories of the brat Hiraldon had been with the solemn young man he had grown into, for he was as immersed in commerce as his father. On his last visit there had been sharp words between Hirgilron and Hiraldon over the commercial value of the estate's lush trees that brought back memories of similar arguments between Hiranion and Hirgon. She had remarked as much to Einar. Her husband had laughed and said it was just as well that the boy cared more for trees than for anything else as there were more trees than anything else on his lands.
A week after Hiraldon left in a huff Einar was tardy returning from his morning rounds of the estate. This did not much concern Terisda, for the entire reason for such rounds was to deal with difficulties that might arise, and dealing with those difficulties could well account for most of the morning. But then Einar did not show up for the noon meal. Rather put out, Terisda had sent the servants to remind him that there were other things in life besides his beloved horses and one of those things was lunch with his wife and children. They were not going to hold the meal for him much longer.
When the servants returned from their search she looked upon their faces and knew, for she had seen that same expression on too many faces after the battle of the Fields.
"Mama, you aren't listening to me."
Einda had that petulant note in her voice again. Terisda shook herself from her reverie and regarded her daughter with a touch of wariness. Einda was behaving most erratically these days, one moment all happiness, the next all tears. The governess assured Terisda that it was normal for a child of Einda's age to have many such conflicting emotions, but Terisda could not recall that Hirgilron exhibited any like extremes during his childhood, and so remained concerned. This amused the governess, although her response was a polite-enough comment that the young Lord had been a very unusual child indeed. "I heard you, daughter. I will send a letter to Hiranion and let him know we are receiving visitors again. It is no easy matter for him or his sons to come here, for it is a great distance from Anfalas and they must make sure all of their businesses are cared for in their absence."
"I'm not interested in Uncle. Just send for Hiraldon. I miss him."
If anything Terisda's alarm grew. Einar had remarked after that last visit that the two would make a good match, and laughed at the expression the comment brought to Terisda's face. "It's not uncommon among my people for a woman to be betrothed at her age, and married a year or two later." When Terisda protested that, among her people, a woman was usually a decade older before even considering a betrothal, Einar's reply was rather sharp. "Not everyone in Middle Earth has the luxury of time that a noble of Gondor enjoys."
Terisda was silent after that, for he had spoken a truth that she had only recently begun to acknowledge. She had been shocked on her last visit to the King's court when she beheld Eowyn and realized that time laid a far heavier hand on her than it had on Faramir. It had forced Terisda to look at her own husband with unshuttered eyes, to see lines on his face and sags to his frame that she would not expect on a Man of her own country until they were at least half century older than Einar. But the Rohirrim had no Elvish ancestor, not even a distant one, to dilute the effects of time and travail on the features. Einar's comment made Terisda consider, for the first time, that while her two youngest children would most likely out-live their father, she might well out-live them.
The conversation ended there, for as ever Terisda was inclined to ignore things she did not like to deal with. Einar had regarded her with that wry half-smile of his and warned her that it was not a discussion that could put off forever, or even for much longer giving Einda's increasing maturation and her unique position of being a landed noblewoman, but beyond that one sardonic rejoinder he permitted it to drop for the moment. What neither of them could know was that Einar's own remaining time was very short indeed. The subject of Einda's infatuation with her cousin was not broached again before Einar's death.
Again Terisda's memories were cut short, and this time she perceived that she had missed something that was, evidently, very important to Einda. Her daughter's eyes were suddenly bright with brimming tears, and her cheeks were red. "Oh, someone wants a beau," said Eimar in a sing-song voice, before adding maliciously, "I should write Hiraldon and warn him of the trap that awaits him here, shouldn't I? He'll run screaming to the Halflings' lands and beyond, I'm sure. He might even join up with the Elves to take ship at the Grey Havens."
"Be quiet, you orc offal!"
"That's enough, both of you," said Terisda sharply. "Einda, I'm sorry, I didn't mean for you to think that I wouldn't invite Hiraldon. Of course I will. Once word gets out that we're no longer in mourning I'm sure that we'll be over-run with visitors. However, I don't want to hear language like that out of you again."
Eimar snorted. "Oh, you think that's language? You should hear her when--"
Terisda cut him off. "And you. Tease your sister like that again and I will send you to the Rohirrim instead of Minas Tirith when it's time for you to squire. You aren't a noble in the land of the Riders, Eimar; you might find your treatment very different than what you would get at the King's court."
Eimar looked equal parts sullen and interested, but he subsided for the moment and the meal progressed in relative calm, although more than one fraught glance was shared between the siblings. One of the reasons for dining in the great hall rather than the private quarters was that the public forum forced the children into a certain amount of decorum even when no guests were present. Terisda had no doubt that there would be more hot words exchanged between the two when they thought they were less likely to be observed, for she well remembered similar spats between her brother and herself at near the same age.
Her major domo came into the hall near the end of the meal, appearing a bit flustered. Sighing, Terisda put down her napkin and prepared to hear some piece of news related to the management of one of the estates, but what he said was, "There is an Elf lord here, milady, with a companion, who wishes to speak with you. Shall I show them in?"
Terisda was mildly surprised that he bothered to ask. It was either Elrohir or Elladan, of course; the twins had become regular visitors over the years, first arriving shortly after Hirgilron's birth claiming that they had been hunting orcs in the area and needed a place to rest, last appearing for Einar's wake. It was unusual for one to come without the other, but Elrohir had occasionally made the journey without his brother. "Of course," she said. "Elves are always welcome in this hall." She smiled at her daughter. "Our first visitors already! I told you we would soon be over-run."
"Perhaps they found orcs in the area," suggested Eimar, eyes shining. "They are always hunting orcs, aren't they?"
"The Elf lords, along with your father and twoscore others, eliminated the last band in Ithilien twenty years ago," Terisda reminded him, a little dryly. "Lord Elrohir and Lord Elladan have to go much further afield than our homeland to find orcs these days."
Eimar appeared very disappointed. "Everything's so boring here now," he sulked. "There aren't any adventures at all anymore."
"I have heard tell," remarked a silver-toned voice, "that adventures never really end. They can be subtle things, however. One may not realize one was even in an adventure until many years later. It would behoove you to keep your eyes wide open, young lord, lest an adventure sweep past you and leave you all unknowing in its wake."
Einda let out a tiny little squeal of excitement as she gazed at the two newcomers, but hastily recollected that she was a grown-up lady now and demurely dropped her gaze. Eimar was not quite to the age where politeness overruled his curiosity, however, and his stare was frank and assessing.
Slowly Terisda turned her head, knowing without question who was standing in her hall, but hoping beyond hope that she was wrong. She could hardly say she never thought of him, but such thoughts had become more and more rare over the years, time giving her memories a wraith-like quality until she could almost believe he was a fever-dream concocted by her strange emotional state in the weeks after the death of her first husband. But as she met the clear-eyed gaze for the first time in three decades the haze enshrouding her memories fell away. She suddenly felt as if the intervening years had been the dream, and she was only now wide awake and aware.
Mostly, though, she was grateful with a painful intensity that her eldest son was at Culumaldas rather than here to meet with these unexpected guests.