10. Chapter 10
Quite why an ordinary, dark-haired woman caused his insides to flip, whilst the accredited beauty a few yards away did not, Imrahil had no idea. True, she had the air of Númenor about her – tall, with high cheekbones and a graceful carriage to her neck – but so did many ladies of his acquaintance. However, they did not all have slanted, almond-shaped eyes that gazed at him with what he could only deduce to be veiled hostility. Surprised, plus a little amused – for some reason both women thought him an ogre – Imrahil twitched his lips into a smile and blatantly returned her appraisal.
A slight flush stained her pale cheeks and she shifted her attention to Lady Mirineth expectantly, but when it became obvious that the daughter of the house had been struck dumb, and was nervously twisting a handkerchief in her fingers, she turned back, fixing her intent gaze on him again.
"My lord Prince," she said with another bow of her head, "I am Lady Aearin. Lord Glavror is expected back shortly, but allow me to present his daughter, Lady Mirineth." A long-fingered hand gestured towards the anxious beauty, who reddened.
"So pleased you called, my lords," Lady Mirineth stuttered out, "I am sorry my father is not here to receive you."
What the blazes was wrong with her? She could hardly meet his eyes. Anyone would think an orc had come to call! Pushing his irritation aside, Imrahil bowed. "It's no matter, my lady. I really came for a word with Lady Aearin."
"Oh!" Some of the fright left her eyes, and a wave of relief crossed her lovely face.
"You came to see me, my lord?" Lady Aearin's well modulated voice betrayed her astonishment at being singled out. But she quickly brought it under control and spoke to him politely, if a little frigidly. "Is there any way I can help you?"
Imrahil reached under his tunic to where he had been keeping the book safe from the rain. Now he had got this far, he was not going to be put off by a less than enthusiastic welcome. "Captain Thorongil asked me to return your book, my lady. But having taken the liberty of flipping through this one, I confess I was hoping to take a look at the others in the set, read them in order in fact."
"Ah, that is kind of you, my lord. I did wonder when we heard he had not returned." She took the book from him, and smoothed her hand over the cover as though she had missed it, struggling with good manners. "You may of course borrow the books; I will pack them up and make sure they reach you."
"Thank you. And I would like to hear more about their provenance. Perhaps we could arrange a convenient day for me to call again, when you would be willing to talk to me."
For the first time she seemed confused; a pulse throbbed in her throat. "My duties here keep me rather busy…"
"Nonsense, Aearin," Mirineth butted in, sounding much more confident, "of course you must talk to the prince. Think how much Captain Thorongil enjoyed the books and he often came to discuss them with you. You know you are always free when I have my music lessons."
Imrahil choked back a laugh as he caught Sergion's amused look. It seemed Lady Mirineth was no predatory lioness, and quite willing to let him go. Lady Aearin looked as though the thought of meeting him was entirely repugnant, but before she could make any response the door opened and a tall, brown-haired man entered, beaming from ear to ear. A richly embroidered velvet tunic stretched across his ample belly, his girth accentuated by a fancy gold-embossed sword belt. It had to be Lord Glavror.
"Well, the heroes of the hour have called. Honoured we are, aren't we, my love?" His daughter nodded, looking anything but pleased. But whether it was her father's arrival or the reference to his and Sergion's visit that had subdued her again, Imrahil wasn't sure.
Lord Glavror looked between his guests, trying to work out their identity, but he and Sergion were dressed similarly for riding. "Introduce me," Glavror prompted when his daughter stood mute.
Taking pity, Imrahil stepped forward and gave his name, before introducing Sergion.
Lord Glavror flashed his daughter an irritated look. "Haven't you offered our guests some refreshment, Mirineth?"
"I…" she started to stutter an excuse, her cheeks flushing, but Lady Aearin quickly came to her rescue.
"I was just going to do so, my lord." She pulled a corded rope that hung by the fireplace, but Imrahil held up his hand.
"No, please, we cannot stay. I merely called to return a book," he excused himself to Glavror. Their visit seemed to be causing Lady Mirineth such distress he thought it best to leave. "We have horses to exercise, and the day is waning."
"Oh, yes, your horses. You have many, don't you? A lot of work, they are, but useful in their way, I suppose." Lord Glavror dismissed Dol Amroth's pride and joy with a frown. So much for his Rohirric ancestry!
"But you must come to dinner, Prince Imrahil. And Lord Ser…Sergion, of course," he added magnanimously. "Tomorrow night."
Imrahil started to protest, but Glavror bustled on. "I insist. You can tell us all about your adventures and enjoy some good food at the same time. You'll not find a better table anywhere in the City than you will here. And I bet you'll be glad of it after spending days on that ship. They're very welcome, aren't they, my love?"
"Yes. Yes, of course, we would love to see you." Mirineth had got herself under control, although her eyes were still wary.
Imrahil was not sure he could stand the thought of an evening spent with a beautiful ninny-hammer, a hostile attendant and a man who thought too much of himself, and started to make excuses, but Lady Aearin intervened. "I will have the books ready for you, my lord, and I am sure that during dinner I will be able to answer any questions you have." Even the forced smile softened her fine features, transforming her face to near beauty. The stir of interest he had felt when first setting eyes on her deepened into a stab of desire, and awoke his hunting instinct. Damn it, he had done nothing to warrant such shabby treatment.
"That is kind." After a glance to Sergion to confirm his agreement, Imrahil turned his attention back to Glavror. "Thank you. We shall look forward to sampling your cook's best." He bowed to Lady Mirineth, half hidden behind her father's bulk. "And I shall enjoy furthering our acquaintance, my lady."
She inclined her head and managed to meet his eyes, but no one could ever think the prospect delighted her.
Moments later he and Sergion had retrieved their cloaks and were outside in the drizzling rain. "What do you make of that?" Imrahil asked as soon as the door closed behind them.
"You mean why did you frighten Lady Mirineth out of her pretty skin?"
"That's exactly what I meant. I think I will have to revise my opinion, I have the feeling she wants to be pushed towards me as little as I want to be pushed towards her."
Sergion cocked a brow. "Understandable. She obviously took one look and panicked. I bet she's telling her father right now that there's no way she'd have such an ugly looking dog, even for a title."
Imrahil laughed. That certainly suited him. "What did you think of Lady Aearin?"
"I thought she was trying manfully to do her job, which I imagine is to bolster up her employer's daughter. She put aside her own disinclination and encouraged you to accept the dinner invitation because that was what was wanted, I imagine."
"You thought that." Imrahil considered it, and sighed. "You're probably right, but why should she be so unfriendly when we have never met before."
"I have no idea, but there is no understanding the workings of a woman's mind…" Sergion suddenly stopped, his face breaking into a grin. "You're attracted, aren't you? You're so used to being fawned over by desirable ladies, that meeting with the cold shoulder sparks your interest."
Imrahil shrugged; trust Sergion to see right through him. "I could be, but even if I managed to get past her aversion to me a dalliance would complicate our stay, and if I am unlikely to get anywhere with her, I might just as well go home."
"True, and anyway, I am not sure she is the type of woman you could dally with," Sergion pointed out.
"No, I don't imagine she is," Imrahil agreed. "Which is all the more reason to leave very soon." Putting temptation out of the way was always a good idea, it saved any difficulties. He would go to dinner, which would mean he could talk to her about her books without any private meeting, read through them, and that would be the end of it. Although it would be interesting to find out what ailed Lady Mirineth, maybe that would become clear tomorrow. Right now a good gallop over the Pelennor sounded a great idea.
The surprise was that when he returned – wet but exhilarated, Blade having fulfilled his early promise of speed – a neatly tied package awaited him. Lady Aearin had sent her books. Imrahil left it until he had changed his wet clothes, wrapped his fingers around a goblet of rich red, and taken a seat in front of the big fire before he unfolded the note she had enclosed with them.
It didn't surprise him that her writing was as pleasing to the eye as the lady herself, and he idly wondered why when she so obviously had noble ancestry she needed to earn a living. But then a soldier's pension paid to a daughter would be small.
My Lord Prince,
I feel it would be advantageous to you to be given time to peruse the books before we meet tomorrow night. This will enable you to clarify any information you require.
Lady Aearin of Lanthir
She was making sure he did not need to call again! Imrahil put the note down, thinking hard: Lanthir? Where was that? He looked around to the big bookcase, somewhere there would be maps. Tossing off the last of the wine, and getting to his feet, he scanned the bursting shelves: it would be quicker to consult the map on the wall of his father's study.
He bounded up the stairs two at a time. Lamps had already been lit in the passageway, and Imrahil hooked one off the wall, seeing the room still in darkness.
"Going somewhere?" Sergion poked his head around the study door moments later, attracted by the glow. "Or have you forgotten the way home?"
"No," Imrahil muttered, his finger tracing over the detailed map. "I am looking for somewhere called Lanthir."
"Lanthir? I've never heard of it. Why do you want to know?" Sergion stood alongside him, adding his eyes.
"Mmm …? Oh…" Damn, it could be anywhere. Imrahil sighed. "She's Lady Aearin of Lanthir."
"I see…" To be fair, it was a moment before Sergion's lips twisted into a sardonic grin.
Imrahil shrugged nonchalantly. "Just interested, I wondered why she has to go as a companion."
"You'll be able to ask her tomorrow." Sergion tapped his finger against his lips thoughtfully. "But there are many places on our borders that have fallen to ruin because of the incursion of our enemies."
"That's what I was thinking; Lanthir is an old name for a waterfall so it seems likely to look in Ithilien, but I can't find it."
Sergion shot him a shrewd glance. "What's the interest, I thought you had no intention of following that particular scent."
"I haven't, but now it's a puzzle and I want to find out the answer."Imrahil grinned, dismissing any idea that he was more than mildly interested.
"You're impatient as always." Sergion chuckled, peering at the map.
Imrahil studied the area of Ithilien between Osgiliath and Cair Andros, he'd already been over it once. "One would think it should be near to one of the tributaries but …" he stopped, squinting at an age mark on the map – about time his father commissioned a new one. "I think this might be it, only antir is readable, but surely it's too much of a coincidence."
"Probably." Sergion agreed after scrutinizing the spot. "It's in the area one would expect anyway."
"Well, I am pretty sure that's the right place."
"Good, although I can't see it matters to know," Sergion observed. "But now perhaps we can get some dinner, which is why I came to find you. Niram has roasted a goose and made a fig tart."
Imrahil's stomach growled at the thought of food – he could eat a horse, let alone a goose. And after the meal he could settle down with the first book. "Lead me to it."
Both dinner and book lived up to his expectations: the goose succulent, its skin seared to a golden crispness, the book a fascinating account of Eärnil's ambush of the Haradrim at Poros told by one of his commanders, a man called Alagaron.
He couldn't get to the end of it, his eyes sore from trying to decipher the writing in the candlelight. There would be time the next day.
But in that he was mistaken, a summons from Ecthelion to give a personal account of the raid on Umbar to the Council, and time spent with his sister and nephew meant that when he and Sergion presented themselves at Lord Glavror's house the following evening, he had read no more.
The entrance hall was filled with light. Most of it came from the huge candleholder at the bottom of the stairs – the dancing bears glowed, their hideous grins showing long glittering teeth. They dominated the space with their size and awfulness. Sergion shuddered, and as he passed his cloak over to a servant, whispered in Imrahil's ear. "Whatever wonderful food he is going to give us, I'm not sure it's worth having to put up with that monstrosity."
This time the steward led them to a long room that ran along the back of the house and Lord Glavror hurried up to them as soon as they were ushered through the doors.
"Ah, on time, that's what I like."
Imrahil made some polite response and immediately bit back a groan: they were not the only guests. What misguided notion had persuaded Glavror to invite Lady Halien, whom he considered to be the most arrogant woman of his acquaintance, and Lagor, her equally pompous husband? A tall, bony woman with swept back black hair and a thin mouth, he had always disliked her. Lagor was shorter than his wife, which probably accounted for the air of consequence he armed himself with. Imrahil listened to their pretentious greetings with practised indifference and turned to Lady Mirineth. She certainly would please the most jaded eye, the flush in her cheeks and innocent quality adding greatly to her appeal. But during the few moments he talked to her – trying his best to put her at her ease, seeing that her hand shook when he kissed it – his body quivered awareness of the woman standing behind her.
"Lady Aearin, good evening." Dressed simply in a gown the colour of a misty morning, her elegance and poise contrasted sharply with the diffidence that characterized Lady Mirineth. Imrahil took her knuckles to his lips, keeping his eyes fixed on her face. But she gave nothing away, any dislike hidden behind an expression schooled into a polite welcome."Thank you for sending the books, I am three quarters through the first and find it fascinating."
"Most warriors appreciate the detailed account of the battle, my lord, but I imagine you will be surprised by the end of it."
"Oh, is there something unexpected?"
A flash of amusement sent green lights dancing in her eyes for a moment, hinting that a lighter temperament lay concealed behind the controlled face she presented to him. "I think so. But I will leave you to discover it for yourself."
"I shall look forward to it." Whatever it was, it would give him the excuse to meet her again. Also, he wanted to discuss the preservation of the books, even if he had to fight past her heavy guard, but Glavror was already waiting impatiently for him to finish talking. Imrahil had a sinking feeling he would enjoy little of her company tonight.
Seeing her employer hovering, Aearin bowed her head and stepped back.
"Let me lead you to your place, my lord." Glavror shepherded him towards the table. Great Ulmo! Another monstrosity adorned the centre of it. This time it was a sculpture carved from shiny black rock – two snarling lionesses quarrelling over the body of a desert antelope. Enough to put the squeamish off their dinner. He dared not look at Sergion or he'd be unable to control his laughter.
The long table would seat many more than the seven of them, but only one end had been laid and Glavror sat at the head, putting Imrahil on his right and Lady Halien on his left. Having guessed Mirineth would be put the other side of him, Imrahil found it easy to hide any disappointment, only throwing a wry look at Sergion when his friend sat down next to Lady Aearin. Putting her out of his mind, he turned to Lady Mirineth determined to see if he could quell the anxiety she obviously felt in his company. He talked commonplaces, as their goblets were filled, and a first course of smoked eel and cucumber was put in front of them.
"I remember we had eel at your sister Finduilas' wedding, Prince Imrahil," Lady Halien observed in her haughty manner, poking at the fish suspiciously.
"Did we?" Imrahil answered, "I am afraid I can hardly remember the food."
She pushed the cucumber to the side of her plate, screwing up her nose. "I confess I was a little surprised the ceremony took place in Dol Amroth and not Merethond. But in spite of my doubts, I admit it didn't go too badly."
The rude woman! Imrahil stared at her, biting back the retort that came to his lips. "My father likes to see his daughters married from their home."
"So the hall at Dol Amroth is big by the sound of it?" Glavror enquired, a satisfied smile on his lips.
Imrahil shrugged. "The Great Hall can seat a thousand at a squeeze, so it's about the same size as Merethond.
"A thousand!" Mirineth echoed, losing all colour.
Now what had upset her? "It's not used every day. We have a small hall and a family dining room," Imrahil pointed out. But she still looked shocked.
"I get anxious if we have more than a dozen to dinner," she admitted with a shaky intake of breath. "Even though we have a lot of servants."
"I imagine that when the Great Hall is used all the organising is not left to your mother, Prince Imrahil." Lady Aearin spoke to him, but her reassuring smile was for Mirineth.
"No, we have a very efficient steward. My mother likes to do the flowers, but even then she has an army of women to help her."
"Dol Amroth must be a huge place." Mirineth swallowed, her blue eyes wide and apprehensive.
Imrahil smiled at her. "It's quite a large city. Built on top of a cliff, so it's a natural fortification. But the palace is homely enough."
"Homely? With a hall that seats a thousand." She flashed a wary glance to her father, but Lady Halien had engaged him in conversation.
Imrahil wondered what had been said to her. The poor girl was obviously petrified she would be forced into a marriage that would mean her presiding over a vast household when she felt unprepared to do so. Manners forbade him telling her that there was no chance of it, but presumably – as he had repeated it today – the news of his refusal to cooperate would filter down from Ecthelion.
"I expect it seems comfortable to me, as I know no different. But I can understand that others might find it a little imposing."
A laugh from across the table made him look up. Aearin and Sergion had their heads together, clearly enjoying their conversation. Sergion was obviously recounting some tale and whatever it was, Aearin found it amusing. She looked relaxed and decidedly lovely. Imrahil smothered a surge of jealous irritation, and returned his attention to Mirineth. "Minas Tirith is very different from Linhir, are you enjoying living here?"
She had composed herself again, but her mouth dropped at his question. "I enjoy the weekly dances; everyone is so kind and I am never short of a partner. Lady Aearin has introduced me to all the important people, and explained the traditions I needed to know. That has made living here easier, but the City is all stone. I don't like that very much. There are hardly any trees and many housewives do not even put flowers outside their door."
"And you like flowers" he prompted when her lips quivered.
"I do, and I used to like walking with my dog along the shoreline. There is nowhere to walk here, and I had to leave my dog behind because she was having puppies." She paused, a wistful smile flickered on her lips. "They will be grown up by the time I see them. I asked Father if we might go home now that you have burnt all the Corsairs' ships but…"
"No need to go home yet, my dear," her father interrupted, having pulled himself away from Lady Halien. "But we want to hear about the attack on the Corsairs, don't we?" He beamed around the table. "Straight from those who took part."
"I agree we are at an advantage, Glavror." Lady Halien smirked. "Not many will hear the story of the raid directly from the Prince." She tilted her head like a bird of prey, waiting.
Imrahil fixed his eyes on her sharp-featured face for a moment, tempted to tell her to go to Mordor, but he didn't want to totally spoil the evening for Aearin and Mirineth by causing any embarrassment, so after the plates had been removed, he started talking.
He didn't tell them everything, glossing over some of the killing and the circumstances in which they had found the boys. Occasionally he asked Sergion to clarify something. Their audience listened open-mouthed when they recounted their escape with Windsong appearing through the smoke.
"You must have been so relieved," whispered Mirineth.
"And I heard a rumour you brought out Lady Oriel," Glavror interjected, alight with interest.
Startled, Imrahil glanced at Sergion. His friend remained tight lipped, but his eyes had hardened to shards of steel. Neither of them had mentioned her.
Mirineth looked enquiringly at her father. "What are you talking about?"
Glavror reached over and covered her small hand with his large one. "I kept it from you, my love. But Lady Oriel was snatched by the Corsairs in that terrible raid. It's one reason I brought you here."
"Kept it from me!" Her voice rose in distress. "I wondered why she had not written. Why should you keep it from me? She's my friend!"
"Now keep calm, Mirineth." Spots of colour appeared on his cheeks, as she stared at him accusingly. "That's why I didn't tell you, I knew you'd be upset. And also her brother didn't want the news of her abduction to be generally known."
Mirineth stared at him hard before swinging around to Imrahil. "What happened to her? Did you bring her home?"
Imrahil wasn't sure how much to say, he certainly couldn't deny it. "We did. Luckily she was still in the port and we rescued her along with many other women. She should be home by now."
"Oh, thank goodness!" Mirineth's lips trembled and tears filled her eyes. "Is Oriel hurt?" she gulped, not bothering to brush the glistening droplets away.
Now, how did he answer that? "She is not badly hurt, but she has been ill used, and will need considerable time to recover."
The impact of his words must have registered because Mirineth blanched, the tears overflowing down her cheeks. "I must write to her. No," she turned back abruptly to her father, "I must go home…"
"No, no, Mirineth," Glavror said quickly, "we need to stay here for a while."
"In any case, my dear," Lady Halien sounded off. "I am afraid you will not be allowed to associate with the unfortunate lady any more. It would be entirely unsuitable."
"What! Why shouldn't she if they are friends?" Sergion glared at her, half rising in his chair. "No blame attaches itself to Lady Oriel for what has happened."
Lady Halien shrank back a little, but gave no more ground. "That may be so, but Lord Glavror can hardly be expected to allow his innocent daughter to consort with a woman who…"
"A woman who acted bravely and needs the support of her family and friends," Sergion snapped before she could finish.
"We've known each other since we were children," Mirineth appealed tearfully to her father, "you can't tell me it's not right to see her anymore."
The argument flustered Glavror. Colouring even more, he looked from one to the other of them and then his eyes settled on Lady Aearin.
"If you are looking to me for comment, lord," she said in her deliberate way, "then I must say that no person of noble mind would cast aside a friend who needed help."
"That may be so normally, Lady Aearin," Halien looked down her nose and sniffed. "But one cannot expose an innocent like Lady Mirineth to possible unseemly conversation."
"Lady Aearin is correct, my lord," fed up with the woman's pontificating Imrahil stepped in. "I can assure you that if such a thing had happened to one of my sisters' friends, then my parents would have urged their daughters to be as supportive as they felt able."
Lord Glavror breathed out thankfully. "Then that settles the matter, Mirineth. If the Prince thinks it's suitable for you to continue your friendship then we can have no worries. You shall write to Lady Oriel and tell her you will call the next time you are home." He looked up as the door opened. "Ah, here it comes, you will enjoy this."
The suckling pig was carried through with due ceremony, and when a portion arrived on Imrahil's plate he had to admit that it had been cooked to perfection, but Mirineth only picked at hers. He kept up a flow of inanities, to which she made vaguely relevant answers. After a while she gave up on her food and, with a glance at her father to make sure he was not attending, moved slightly nearer him.
"Can you tell me what happed to Oriel," Mirineth whispered. "Will she be all right?"
"I think it's up to her to tell you about her ordeal, Lady Mirineth. But I thought Lady Oriel to be a strong person, so she will hopefully recover from her experiences in time. I will tell you that she has been revenged. Captain Thorongil killed her abuser."
Mirineth gave him a wan smile. "I'm glad. And Oriel always had a lot of spirit, much more than me. In fact she always looked after me when we were little. And she stood up to my brother, who frequently tried to bully me. Mind you, she had a lot of practice with her own, who is even worse." Mirineth went on to recount some of their childhood escapades, in which Oriel took the leading part. Her reminisces lasted them through the rest of the meal.
At least Mirineth had lost her shyness of him, but any hope Imrahil had that he would enjoy a spicier interlude with Lady Aearin when they had finished eating was firmly quashed by the lady herself. She tactically sat between Lord Lagor and his harpy wife, allowing no chance of anything other than general conversation. He had no doubt – by catching a sideways glance when she thought him not looking – that it was a deliberate ploy to keep him away. Why that should be when she knew he wanted to discuss her books, he had no idea. She seemed perfectly happy to converse with Sergion. Damn it! What game was she playing? Well, he would see how her defences would hold up when he launched a targeted campaign.
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.