4. Chapter 4
“In my country, Imrahil, if a woman insults a man she would be bound to him as his slave. However, because of the circumstances of our agreement if Princess Lothíriel is handed over to me I will still accept her as my wife.”
Hand his daughter over to this piece of dung! Elphir was right, the man was mad. Imrahil stared at the Prince of Harad, wondering how he could keep that banal smile on his face whilst uttering such rubbish. “I think I have made it plain, Umar, that my daughter is not part of this agreement. She is far too young to be used as a bargaining tool. I am sorry for her behaviour and that she is not available to apologise, but I did warn you when you were here before that we do not discuss our womenfolk in public and certainly not at dinner.”
Umar curled the corner of his lip, his eyes narrowing. Not at all handsome now, Imrahil noted, just an evil looking brute. He wondered what would come next and momentarily sympathised with Erchirion’s continuing desire to ram his sword down that slimy throat.
“You Gondorians are far too lenient towards your women, Imrahil. In my country they do not eat with us and those present are only there to entertain the men.” With that he imperiously swept his red cloak around him, barked an order to his unfortunate lackey, and turned his back on his host. With spurs jangling he bounded down the steps to his waiting horse.
Good riddance! Imrahil knew that if the man had stayed around any longer his normal patient manner would have been seriously compromised. What an evening! What an error of judgement – thinking that the talks had been going well and they were near to reaching a compromise. As a rule he read men much better and could only put it down to trying to conform to Denethor’s wishes against his own inclinations. But that was not the issue now. More important than anything else – where had Lothíriel gone? Going back inside Imrahil met Elphir coming down the stairs.
His son shook his head. “Nowhere. We have searched the entire palace. Amroth has gone to the stables to see if Whitewing is missing, but it’s unlikely. They would not let her go out alone after dark. Erchi is questioning the gatekeepers, but there was a lot of coming and going tonight with the feast.”
Hmm…, and they knew from experience that Lothíriel could be resourceful if she wanted to make herself scarce. Imrahil sighed, knowing he should have sent Eglaneth straight away, but he had wanted to give his daughter time to compose herself. Bad mistake, another thing he should have known.
“Whitewing’s still here,” Amroth called even before he reached them. That was a relief; wherever she had gone it couldn’t be far.
Just before dawn, after Erchi and Elphir had taken a score of men to search the port and the ships in harbour and he had even sent Sergion to the Harad camp, causing Umar to spit blood with indignation, Imrahil felt helpless. It crossed his mind that Lothíriel could have gone to Ivriniel, but the patrols had reported nothing and she would have surely not have walked along the beach past the Harad camp. Of course if she’d gone along the road she could have dodged into the trees if she’d heard anyone coming, so even though he thought it unlikely given the distance, he made a decision.
“Amroth, get the dogs out.”
His youngest son turned from staring out of the window, his face showing his worry with his normally sparkling eyes dull and lifeless. “There’s lightening flashing over the sea. A storm’s coming; I doubt the dogs will be any use soon.”
Damn! He should have done this earlier. Another mistake, but it had never occurred to him that Lothíriel would actually run away. Who or what was she so afraid of? Surely she knew he would not sacrifice her for some flimsy treaty. Again he wondered if he had missed something. Why was Umar so insistent on having her and why had Lothíriel hated him from the very first moment? Imrahil looked out of the other window, gazing down on the gates. “The stable master must think it’s blowing up, too. They’re just going to get the horses in.”
Amroth suddenly opened his mouth, his eyes widening. “Mista! Mista’s kept outside in the paddock. Once through the gates Lothíriel could have taken him without even bothering to tack him up.”
Her hand had gone to sleep. How long had she been clutching Mista’s mane? How long had she slept? Pushing herself into a sitting position, Lothíriel looked nervously around, unsure what she would see. A grey landscape – it couldn’t be long after dawn. She could just make out that they were traversing the western side of a wide valley as ahead and to her left night still ruled the sky. But to her right streaks of fiery red rose above the ridge. Somewhere below she could hear the sound of fast flowing water, and make out the dark tops of pines. As the sky continued to lighten, it became clear that the stony track sloped gradually down, disappearing amongst some scrubby trees along the top of an escarpment.
Uncertainty claimed her; they must be leagues from the road, somewhere in the Tarnost Hills. Should she turn around? But looking back showed dark clouds gathering in the distance and hearing a far off rumble of thunder, she dismissed that idea. Anyway, Mista had quickened his step and she guessed he needed a drink. Food too, for both of them. Hopefully Mista would find some grazing on the valley floor but the pickings would be poor for her. Wild strawberries, perhaps? Or maybe she could find a farmstead lower down … what? Lothíriel sniffed, and sniffed again. Bacon – her stomach grumbled in response – the unmistakable smell of frying bacon.
Could there be a dwelling nestled into the bottom of the rock face? But she could glimpse the stream through the trees now and no track ran along its bank; the area looked uninhabited. Then she spotted a thin wisp of smoke spiraling upwards in the still air. More likely to be a camp. Outlaws? Goatherds? But she could neither see nor hear any animals. Sense told her she should be wary but some other instinct made her kick Mista on, taking a path that led steeply down the side of the crag. “Slowly Mista,” she whispered. But the little pony, surefooted as ever even in his tiredness, carried her safely. They ended up on a flat plateau still some way above the stream and the ground beneath Mista’s hooves grew soft with a carpet of pine needles. Lothíriel stared: halfway along the bottom of the escarpment, in front of what looked like an opening to a cave, a grey-garbed figure sat next to a small fire. He – yes he, she could see a long grey beard as she got closer – poked a stick around a pan which he held over the flames. Saliva filled her mouth at the aroma of breakfast. Mista took a few more steps forwards, stopped and whickered softly. The man looked up, piercing eyes under bushy brows surveyed pony and girl, lips quivered into a smile.
“Ah, here you are, just in time. It is ready.”
Surprise silenced her for a moment, until the old man cocked his head to one side as though inviting her to join him. “You were expecting me?” She asked, bewildered.
“What date is it?”
“Date?” Lothíriel repeated stupidity.
“Yes of course, the date. If I know that, then I will know if I was expecting you.”
Not understanding at all she thought she had better humour him. “June the twenty-third.”
“Ah…. but what year?”
“The sixteenth in the stewardship of Denethor, son of Ecthelion,” she answered.
He gave a sharp nod. “Then, yes. I was expecting you. Now come and eat while it’s hot.”
For some reason accepting this, Lothíriel hopped from Mista’s back. “My pony needs a drink and some grazing,”
“I had not forgotten!” He looked slightly indignant and, stick still in hand, got to his feet. Tall, now she could see him standing, and the litheness of his movements belied his ancient looks. A gnarled hand stroked Mista’s forehead. “If you follow that path there,” the stick pointed to narrow track through the trees as he addressed the pony, “you will find Háran. He will show you the most succulent grass that grows by the stream and the safest place to drink.”
Mista shook his head and blew through splayed nostrils before he trotted happily off in the direction of the water. “Whose is Háran?” Lothíriel asked watching Mista’s tail disappear amongst the pines.
Bushy eyebrows drew together. “My horse. You did not think I walked, did you? No, much too far.”
“I don’t know where you have come from.” Lothíriel felt obliged to point out.
“Don’t you? No, of course you don’t. I, on the other hand, know where you have come from and where you are going.”
“I think I have to go home,” she said, feeling a bit lost and dejected. But she sat on the blanket the old man indicated, her eyes fixed on the piece of flatbread onto which he piled crisp bacon. “I am never going to find my way to my aunt’s now.”
“Not quite what I meant,” the old man muttered into his beard. Folding the bread in half, he handed it to her. “Do you need to go to your aunt’s? I rather wanted to talk to you.”
Lothíriel ignored this, her woes coming pouring out. “I thought she could save me from marrying the Prince of Harad. She doesn’t like Uncle Denethor. But I realize that was foolish and I should trust my father more.” Holding the oozing bread in both hands, Lothíriel knew she was about to cry. Not something she normally did. She sniffed, trying to stop the tears from coming. “I don’t think my father will insist on me marrying him, he doesn’t really like him.”
Her companion, his mouth full of bacon, stared at her puzzled. “Your father does not like Denethor, but he is trying to make you marry him?”
“No! Not Uncle Denethor. It is he who wants the treaty with Umar and Umar wants to marry me as part of it. I won’t! He’s horrible and evil and I can’t do it. Not even for Gondor. So I ran away but now I am lost. I will never get to my aunt’s so I will have to go home. My father will be so angry.” She sniffed and gulped a bit before continuing, “But hopefully he will realize I am serious about not marrying that evil man.”
Munching on his food throughout this tirade the old man appeared thoughtful. He swallowed and then he looked skywards, twisting his lips as though trying to remember something. “This Umar, what color hair does he have?”
“Hair?” Lothíriel blurted out, hunger and confusion making her slightly irritable. “Black of course.”
“Hmm, as I thought, just like his father. So you have no need to worry at all. Apart from the fact that you appear too young to marry, you are not destined to wed anyone with black hair.” He attacked his bacon and bread again, dribbling juice down his chin. A large spotted handkerchief materialized from somewhere and he proceeded to clean up his beard.
“Not marry anyone with black hair,” she repeated, wondering if he were slightly mad.
“No, I definitely remember that your husband is to have fair hair.”
“Are you telling me I don’t have to worry because of the color of Umar’s hair?”
For a moment the old man gazed away his eyes becoming slightly vacant, before he turned back and winked at her. A wink looked so funny coming from those deep creased eyes but his words astonished her even more. “You must not fear, child, for no dark haired man will have you. For from the North the fair-haired warrior will come, riding over the plain toward you, claiming what is his.”
Lothíriel gaped. “Fair-haired warrior?”
“Yes, so now you know that, why don’t you just eat and we can talk about something more interesting.”
Suddenly feeling lighthearted, Lothíriel started eating. Grinning when juice ran down her own chin and gratefully accepting the loan of the handkerchief.
Hunger satisfied, she felt much more comfortable. It was obvious that the old man was harmless, although there was certainly something strange about him. But a nice sort of strange. Not anything nasty.
“I am going to have to go if I want to get back home before this evening,” she said when she had finished every morsel and emptied a large tin mug of sweet tea. “Thank you for feeding me and looking after my pony.” She started to get to her feet but the old man frowned, looking towards the gathering clouds in the south.
“You will get very wet if you go home. And anyway, didn’t I say I wanted to talk to you. You don’t think I came all this way just to give you breakfast, do you?”
Startled, Lothíriel stared at him. “You came to talk to me?” He’d already said he had been expecting her. She should have taken more notice of that. “You sound as if you arranged for me to be here.”
“Well of course I did. Otherwise I might have missed you.” His eyes twinkled and he looked to be waiting for her reaction.
“How could you…” He raised one eyebrow and she gave up on that. She should be worried but something about him reassured her. “Alright, who are you? I don’t even know your name.”
“My name? Let me think.” He scratched his ear, pulled his beard and then smiled. “You can call me Seron. That will do nicely.”
Lothíriel started laughing, she knew her ancient languages. “That just means ‘friend’.”
“Very good! Your education has not been neglected.”
“Are you an elf?” He had spoken Sindarin from the first, but then her family mostly spoke it when together. It stopped the servants from knowing quite everything.
“Goodness me! Do I look like an elf?”
Lothíriel shrugged. The drawings in the old tomes showed them shining, fair-faced and young. “You could be a very old elf, I suppose. But I have never seen one, so I don’t really know.”
He put his head on one side in a gesture of astonishment. “You only have to look at your father to get the general idea, and that brother of yours. Hmm…, which one, though?” He gave the matter some serious thought for a moment. Ah, yes, the youngest one.”
Lothíriel had been shocked into silence but she managed to regain her wits when he hesitated. “Are you saying my father and Amrothos look like elves?”
He pursed his lips. “Perhaps look is too strong a word. But anyway, don’t they have mirrors in the palace at Dol Amroth?”
Lothíriel opened her mouth in surprise wanting to ask how he knew her family and where she came from. But then she realized that if he had arranged for her to be there he must know, which made her ask the other intriguing question. “Do you mean that I look like an elf?”
“Not every elf, but you look like one particular elf. At least you will when you grow up.”
Wrapped in a blanket and lying on a bed of bracken that night, Lothíriel decided that it had been the most extraordinary day of her life. She had learnt so much but found out so little. Still having no idea who her new friend really was, except that he was obviously a very learned man. Man? Not sure about that. But sometime during the day she had decided it did not really matter. Settling down to sleep, she could still hear thunder rolling in the distance. Luckily the storm must have stayed near the coast but she hoped her family would not be out looking for her in the rain. Guilt washed over her for a moment. But if she had been meant to come here then she had been meant to run away and they had been meant to spend time looking for her. She didn’t want them to be sad and she would have to go home soon, but Seron had said there was so much to tell her. The first clear night she was to learn the names of all the stars and….
East Emnet – The Riddermark
Leaving Aldburg at the head of his first patrol, Éomer tried to hide the pride that rode with him. But after a few dry comments from Éothain he realized he had not quite succeeded. He would need to be careful. With all the rest of the men reserving judgment on his leadership, he didn’t want to give them anything to flail him with. Not so arrogant that he dismissed the years of experience that surrounded him, he would be a fool if he did not ask for advice when needed, but any decision was his. And away from his hearing each one he made, good or ill, would be chewed over and digested. Or possibly spat out in disgust. Nothing to be done about that, it came with the position and he just had to get on with it and not let it bother him.
Looking ahead he picked out the glinting silver ribbon that marked where the Entwash wound through the tall summer grasses. Good. Nigh on eight leagues from the Fortress to the river, and they had made it in fine time. His scout had reported the water down so they would be able to wade across, leaving the ponderous rafts for the carts and wagons that converged on the ford. The lower crossing was not used as frequently as the Entwade, but to those who lived and traded on the south-eastern borders of the Mark, it provided a direct line from Aldburg to Eastfeld.
They reached the crossing as the day waned, and after a few quick words with a family driving a flock of sheep to the market at Aldburg, Éomer urged Fireball down into the cool water. He took it slowly, walking the stony bed with care to avoid splashing. At need they would gallop through, but wet boots and harness were better avoided when time allowed. Climbing out, the bank was rutted and chewed; clay spit into deep fissures from the summer sun; imprints of a thousand horses persevered until the rains would return them to mud. Moving a little way onto the soft grass Éomer relaxed comfortably into his saddle, waiting for the remaining members of his patrol to cross the river. As he watched their easy progress, listened to their ribald banter, a shaft of awareness hit him – however much he was the same as these men, he also differed from them. The blood of Eorl ran strong in his veins, his mother – the daughter and sister of a king. Sired by one of the Riddermark’s most consummate warriors, adopted by its sovereign, duty would always call him. Yet duty aside, he loved this land with a fierce love that brooked no counsel and heeded no care. He shifted slightly in his saddle. Only now, when coming up to his twenty-second year, did his father’s armor fit him well - pauldrons sat snuggly on his shoulders; the straps on his cuirass no longer needed extra holes. He might rue the rashness that led to his father’s death but knew that like him he would defend the Mark and its people until his sword shattered in his hand and his blood stained the good green grass.
“Where do you want to make camp? I presume we will head straight for Eastfeld tomorrow,” Éothain said, joining him on the bank and ending his cogitation.
Éomer nodded. His first patrol would take them from Eastfeld down to the marshes of the Entwash and then along the border to the Falls of Rauros. On the way back they would traverse the plain to check on the men and women who lived in the canvas villages set up within sight of the grazing herds. He pointed away to the right. “We’ll camp in the dell by the N?dre; it’s only about a league away. The meandering tributary of the Entwash ran through a shallow wooded valley, one of their favorite stopovers. “Make sure everyone is ready to move out, would you.” He had noticed a couple of his younger Riders still chatting to the daughter of the shepherd. Éothain grinned, and trotted away to round everyone up.
Sleeping in the wild had its own charm, but he looked forward to the following night in Eastfeld and probably so did his men. Most would sleep in the stables but he was unlikely to be the only one offered a bed and not all the beds would be as lonely as his. But if he could have nothing else other than a taste of Bergit’s cooking and some conversation with Edwick, he would take it and be thankful. Friendship transcended rank, and Bergit and Edwick had their own nobility. They, and others like them, were the strength and the heart of the Riddermark. He hadn’t seen them for nearly two months but knew that by now Bergit would be heavy with her second child and Edwick consequently strutting around with a swollen head. He grinned to himself, envying the love the two shared but acknowledging that he had no wish for the responsibility of a wife and a child. Riding at the head of a group of some of the Mark’s finest warriors brought its own satisfaction.
Twenty-four hours later and he spotted the first roof of Eastfeld. The plain gave way to fenced paddocks and cultivated fields and as they passed, those still working raised their hand or called out in greeting. A patrol arriving meant business for the inn and the shopkeepers as well as the reassurance of continued protection for the villagers. They clattered up the main street, followed by the inevitable gaggle of children and dogs.
The others dismounted in the square but Éomer stayed on his horse. “Are you coming for a mug of ale?” Éothain asked, stretching to ease the stiffness of the day’s ride.
“I’ll see to Fireball and then I will be along.” He felt it important to spend time with his men, especially as the patrol had been newly formed and needed bonding together into one unit. But he had got into the habit of putting Fireball in Edwick’s spare stable as he liked to be near his horse. Éothain nodded and led his mount away behind the Inn. Éomer took the side street that led to the yard where Edwick ran his business and had his home.
Strange, the gate was closed. Normally Edwick would still be working, and even if he had gone to do a job somewhere, the gate stayed open during working hours. Éomer dismounted. The bars weren’t up so he pushed the heavy gate open, scattering a few pecking chickens.
“Hi, Gárbald where is everyone?” he said, immediately noticing that the doors to Edwick’s workshop were shut fast. The collie, already on his belly, crawled towards him, reaching as far as he could on the end of his chain before rolling onto his back. Éomer bent down to fondle his black ears, and tickle his stomach. They were old friends. Still with one hand on Gárbald’s belly and one holding on to Fireball, Éomer looked around. At the far end of the yard three lines of washing hung limply and two baskets loaded with more sat on the cobbles to the side. It seemed an extraordinary amount for two people and a child. And where was Éomund? The little boy usually toddled out to meet him, arms outstretched to be lifted on top of Fireball. Éomer straightened up and looked over to the stable: the piebald carthorse gazed mournfully out, watching him with doleful eyes. “What’s the matter, Flyhte? You look fed up.”
The manger was full and he had water, so it couldn’t be that. Éomer quickly unsaddled Fireball and installed him in the other stable; he’d come and groom him properly when he had found out what was going on. Sure now that all was not well, he hurried across the yard to the door of the house and lifted his hand to knock. But then something stopped him and he quietly pushed the door open. For a moment all looked as usual: a neat and tidy kitchen; a pot of something simmering on the stove, but slumped over the scrubbed wooden table, head on arms and fast asleep, he saw Bergit.
Unsure what to do for a moment, he hesitated and with that her eyes opened. She lifted her head and stared at him, tiredness dulling her gaze, her pretty features masked by misery. “Oh, Éomer, it’s you.”
“Bergit, what is it? What’s the matter?”
“Shh…!” She put her finger to her lips and waved him outside before struggling to her feet, her advanced pregnancy making her ungainly.
“What is it?” He repeated as soon as the kitchen door shut behind them. She didn’t answer but looked so forlorn that he couldn’t help himself: he put his arms around her and pulled her against his chest. She sank gratefully against him, ignoring the hard leather amour and closing her eyes again. He let her lie like that for a few moments, remembering the time before when he had held her in her pain and anguish. Putting his lips against her hair he murmured, “Tell me, Bergit.”
She didn’t lift her head but talked into his chest as if not looking at him would make it easier to bear or at least easier to say. “Edwick had an accident. A cart turned over just outside the village and a young lad got trapped underneath. Edwick lifted it. He put his back under it and they got the boy out. But…” She looked up at him then and from something in her eyes Éomer knew what was coming. His heart lurched with horror. He felt sick. “It came down on top of him. He can’t walk. He can’t move his legs.” She started sobbing. Deep wrenching sobs that tore at him.
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.