15. Chapter 15
Hunting in earnest now, Imrahil knew better than to crowd his quarry. Although when he was lounging in the private parlour of The Grey Goose, with a foaming tankard in front of him and contemplating his recent meeting with Aearin, the temptation to take an early ride along the estuary the very next morning tugged annoyingly at his resolve. Luckily, just as he started to get irritated with himself for his lack of determination, Sergion came in. It only needed a brief look at his friend's brooding expression to deduce that his morning visit had not gone well either.
Imrahil picked up the bell on the table and rang it loudly. "You look as though you need a drink."
"More than one!" Sergion threw his gauntlets onto the table and unfastened his cloak, letting it slither over the back of a chair. He sat down opposite Imrahil and expelled an irritated breath. "It looks like Oriel is moving to some wretched hamlet in the foothills of the Ered Nimrais. The nearest town is Ethring, and from what I remember of my one and only visit, it was full of yokels and half-wits with a fair sprinkling of jackanapes."
"You're very hard on Ethring," Imrahil remarked with twitch of his lips.
Sergion threw him a withering look. "They might as well bury her alive."
His friend in no joking mood, Imrahil wiped the smile from his face and sat up straight. "Why is she going there, and who intends to bury her...?" He stopped as the innkeeper came in. "Hang on; tell me all about it when we won't be disturbed." Imrahil gave an order for a large jug of ale and the man bowed himself out.
They waited; Sergion drummed his fingers on the table, scowling down at the wood. Meeting Oriel had certainly shaken him to the core, which somewhat reassured Imrahil that he wasn't the only besotted fool around. A few moments later the innkeeper reappeared with their ale, filled two tankards, and put the jug down between them.
Imrahil waved the man away and sat patiently whilst Sergion drained half of the tankard. "Now tell me," he said, as his friend wiped the foam from his mouth.
"Her brother should be supporting her! He should escort her round Linhir and kick any man who dares to insult her. Instead, he thinks she should hide herself away and is arranging for her to live with an eccentric cousin who, by all accounts, breeds cage birds and cats!"
"An unlikely combination," Imrahil agreed.
Sergion grimaced. "Exactly!" He took another gulp of ale. "And Oriel admitted to me that she doesn't want to go, but if she stays here she is more or less confined to the house."
Imrahil frowned. "Is her reception that bad? I would have thought it would be talked about for a while and then forgotten."
"Her brother has made it worse. He thinks that she is disgraced, and if he thinks that, then so will everyone else."
"But what about her mother, I am sure you said she is alive. What does she say about it?"
"Nothing much except wring her hands and shed tears. Neither mother nor brother know how to cope." Sergion sighed. "But to be honest, I think Lagorn does care for his sister; it's just that he sets such store by consequence and propriety." He mused for a moment, "I suppose that being a minor noble he feels he has to adhere to the accepted rules. Those of higher rank can get away with more unconventional behaviour."
"I don't think it's unconventional to give support to one's ravished sister," Imrahil retorted.
"No." Sergion let out a long frustrated breath. "I am merely trying to understand his reasoning. He was polite to me when he knew I had a hand in bringing Oriel back, but I swear the thought that I might be interested in her in any other way never crossed his mind. He must think she is no longer eligible as a wife."
Imrahil raised his eyebrows, but said nothing for a moment, thinking hard. He could no more shirk from stirring himself to aid his childhood friend, than he could from helping his sisters in need.
Sergion took another deep draught of ale. "And of course it is far too early for me to even hint of my feelings to Oriel. She is much more subdued than when we first rescued her, although after we had been speaking for a while some of her reserve fell away. Especially when we talked about the journey home and the others who were brought back. But if she goes to live with this cousin I am afraid she will wane into a grey shadow and fade out of my reach."
"You say she does not want to go?" Imrahil asked sharply, an idea having come into his mind at the thought of his sisters.
"No, but with her grandmother's death she feels she has little choice. There is nowhere else she can go."
"Yes, there is. There's Ivriniel!" Imrahil sat back, smugly pleased with his answer to a tricky problem.
"Ivriniel? What do you mean?" Sergion regarded him suspiciously through narrowed eyes.
"She could stay with Ivriniel. It's the very place for her. Ivriniel will respect her privacy, but be a sounding block when she needs it."
Sergion looked thoughtful. "But will your sister be happy to have her?"
Imrahil patted his pocket where he had put one of his sister's letters. "She wrote to say she had great sympathy with Oriel. And you know what she's like with her waifs and strays. Not being luckily enough to have children has hit her hard, she's glad of any diversion. Especially as her husband spends so much time pouring over his books."
"It would answer well." Sergion suddenly sounded much brighter. "Far enough away from Dol Amroth to give Oriel peace, but near enough for her to join in any festivities when she feels able. She can re-enter society at her own pace."
"And only a ride away from you," Imrahil voiced the obvious attraction. What a change when barely more than a month ago neither of them had given a thought to becoming leg-shackled. But here was Sergion trying to work out how to woo a lady who had good reason to loathe men, whilst as for himself? Imrahil groaned inwardly – it looked as if his chosen one despised only him. No, that was not true, as he didn't really think she totally despised him. It seemed to be his rank she had a problem with. Which was the exact opposite of any other marriageable woman he'd encountered.
"It would certainly help for Oriel to be so close," Sergion agreed after a moment's reverie. "But what about her brother? I am not sure he will agree to it."
"Leave that to me." Imrahil laughed, brushing away his own concerns. "I will overwhelm him with consequence."
The next morning Imrahil pushed away his inclination to take a casual ride along the estuary in the hope of meeting up with Aearin. Instead, after a productive visit to the quay to gain information from the port-captain, he took a leisurely breakfast whilst his escort readied themselves to accompany him on his morning mission. Not expecting any formality on the trip, dress uniforms had been stuffed into saddlebags, along with embroidered saddle cloths and pennants. Now harassed squires heated irons on the kitchen range, getting in the way of the busy cooks, and his knights crowded the stables to supervise the brushing of manes and the oiling of black hooves.
A few moments after being told all was ready, Imrahil pushed his plate away and stood up stretching. He adjusted his sword belt and pulled his tunic straight, making sure the glittering swan-ship lay dead centre of his chest. The last time he'd worn this, he had been trying to impress Thorongil and had failed miserably. Hopefully it might have more success with Oriel's brother. With a wry laugh at himself he picked up his cloak and gauntlets and went outside.
Having offered no explanation to his four knights as to why he wanted them honed, polished and ready to provide a princely escort, his stroll out into the courtyard was met with a plethora of questioning looks. But in no way was he going to tell them anything of Sergion's business, so he just barked out orders, which resulted in a hasty assembly of a small column. He and Sergion made up the first rank, with two squires behind carrying pennants, then the four knights followed by their squires. If he hadn't sent the majority of his men home, he could have made it really impressive. A pity his father hadn't provided a trumpeter.
But even with no trumpeter, the unusual spectacle attracted attention – every servant in the inn left his duties to witness the display of pomp, and passersby waited outside in the road, peering and gesticulating towards him. Imrahil hid his amusement behind a schooled expression. Just sometimes he enjoyed doing this.
"All's ready, lord." Sergion winked at him. Imrahil nodded, Sergion put up his hand, and they moved out onto the road.
"Have you worked out what you are going to say?" Sergion quizzed him once they had left the inn behind.
"As near to the truth as I can," Imrahil answered. "I don't like telling lies, so it will be a manipulation of the facts."
"And the facts are?"
Imrahil patted his pocket. "I have letters here, from my father, my mother and my sister. I doubt Lagorn is going to actually ask to see what's in them."
Sergion grinned. "No, I don't suppose he will."
"Hopefully he will be so surprised we will catch him off guard."
They caused a lot of surprise before they even got to see Lagorn. An awed gatekeeper stood open mouthed as the horses passed him, the column filing into a large circular area of stone in front of the double entrance doors. The next to be surprised was the manservant who answered the imperious ringing of the bell.
Imrahil stayed on his horse, looking down in a high-handed manner. "Be so good as to tell your master that Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth is here to see him."
The poor man took one look at all the horses, blanched, and disappeared back into the dark recesses of the house. Moments later a tall man appeared, about the same age as Imrahil, but he was thin, and although he wore a sword, it did not sit easy on him. His eyes opened wide, and he hurried to make a bow.
"Yes, you must be Lagorn. I detect a likeness to your sister." Not much of one, but it was there, although his mouth was weaker and his eyes showed little strength of character. All the better. Imrahil swung himself down from Blade and motioned Sergion to dismount. "The rest of you stay with the horses," he ordered, "I have business with Lord Lagorn."
Shock registered on Lagorn's face, but he recovered quickly. "Yes, yes, of course, lord. Please come this way."
He ushered them across the flagged entrance hall to a side room that looked out onto the garden. It was furnished with a selection of chairs and a large desk. Guessing Lagorn would put himself behind the desk, Imrahil chose a chair to the side, but rather than sit straight away, he stood by it looking out of the window.
"Wine, my lord?" Lagorn passed him a goblet and then one to Sergion. "I was not expecting you to call, lord."
"I can only assume that Lord Sergion must have omitted to tell you yesterday." He threw an admonishing glance at his captain.
"I was not sure of the actual day intended, lord," Sergion answered, his face expressionless.
Imrahil took a sip of his wine and fixed his eyes on Lagorn. "You will no doubt guess that I have called about your sister, Lady Oriel."
Lagorn frowned. "I realise, lord, that you were instrumental in returning her to us, but I did not expect you take any further interest."
"Really?" Imrahil shot his eyebrows upwards. "I'm sure that you know there were numerous captives to be returned to their homes and that by far the largest proportion of these were repatriated to Belfalas."
"Yes, but my sister...."
"My father," Imrahil didn't let him get any more out, "Adrahil, the Lord of Belfalas, and my mother Princess Elphilin, have taken a personal interest in the welfare of all the captives, realising that for some the resumption of their previous lives will be impossible."
Lagorn's face flushed. "Yes. That's true."
"And that there are certain people who will wish to withdraw from society for a short time to enable them to recover completely from their ordeal," Imrahil continued.
"Exactly what I have been saying, my lord." Lagorn nodded enthusiastically. "I have told my mother that Oriel should go away ..."
"Good," Imrahil pounced, being given the very opening he wanted, "I am glad you agree." He quickly pulled a letter from beneath his tunic and opened it, making sure the blue swan-seal was easily seen. He scanned the page as if he needed to be reminded of the contents. "My sister, Princess Ivriniel, is pleased to invite Lady Oriel to reside with her during her ... shall we call it her convalescence."
"Stay with Princess Ivriniel, lord..." Lagorn stammered, "but I am arranging for Oriel to go to a cousin of ours."
Imrahil puffed out his chest, glowered, and spoke in his haughtiest manner. "But surely you are not suggesting that it would be better for Lady Oriel to reside with...a mere cousin, when she could live with my sister, and have her recovery supervised by my mother, Princess Elphilin."
"No lord, you misunderstand me." Lagorn quickly sought to excuse himself. "I cannot feel that it is right for Oriel to enter society at the moment. We are thankful that Oriel is not..." He stopped, his face flushing an even deeper red. "But still, there is so much...talk..."
"Talk!" Imrahil broke in ruthlessly, having seen Sergion stiffen. "Let me assure you that my sister lives in a castle, not precisely isolated, but a good distance from Dol Amroth. There will be no... talk."
"No of course, not, lord. It sounds very suitable...but..."
"But you don't know if Lady Oriel will agree." Imrahil smiled benevolently. "Well, you must send for her and put our proposition to her." He had a job not to laugh, knowing Lagorn was not going to say any such thing. But his interruption worked even better than he had hoped as Lagorn drew himself up.
"My sister will do as I tell her, lord. I am the head of the family and will brook no nonsense from her. I want what is best for her and feel she is not in any state to make her own decisions at the moment."
Sergion rose to his feet, his face a mask of fury, but Imrahil quelled him with a hard look. Luckily Lagorn had his head in the air and didn't notice. Imrahil quickly drew his attention. "In that case let me tell you of the arrangements I have made." He gave Lagorn no chance to disagree, and explained that there would be a ship leaving for Dol Amroth at the end of the week, with enough room to take Oriel. "I will of course be travelling as well, with a small number of my guard."
"But, lord, it would not be seemly for her to go with you on her own."
The prissy fool! Imrahil scowled at him. "If you are worried about any propriety, I am sure you can find a suitable maidservant to travel with her, and let me assure you that my sister will meet the ship!"
"I meant no offence, lord." Once again Lagorn quickly drew back from his small show of spirit.
"I am sure you didn't." Imrahil picked up his gauntlets and pretended to prepare to leave. He wanted to see Oriel, but he also wanted to leave Lagorn with the impression that sending his sister to Dol Amroth had been his decision, so he hesitated before saying. "Perhaps it would be polite for you to call for Lady Oriel. I am sure she would like to know at the earliest what arrangements you have made for her." Hopefully she would be pleased, but if not he'd try and arrange for her to go somewhere else.
"Yes, yes, I'll do that." Lagorn paused. "The castle is quiet you say?"
"Very," Imrahil confirmed. "My sister, her husband and the servants. It looks out to sea and the location is reckoned to be therapeutic to the spirit." He neglected to mention that he, Sergion and no doubt other friends would be regular callers.
Lagorn nodded, giving up, and reached for the wine jug. "If you would be so kind as to wait for a few minutes so that I can explain your proposal to my mother. She will want to know that Oriel is to be looked after."
After refilling their goblets, Lagorn went to the door. As soon as he had his back turned, Imrahil winked at Sergion. I couldn't have gone better.
A short while later, Oriel came in, accompanied by a frail lady who looked as if she had the troubles of the world on her shoulders.
"Lady Oriel," Imrahil bowed, "it is good to see you again."
"Prince Imrahil." Oriel smiled welcomingly, but Imrahil was shocked to see the black shadows under her eyes. And she had lost weight, too. Oriel introduced her mother and he took time to talk to her. It became plain that she was torn between her son and her daughter.
"My son has been telling me of your offer and the fact that he has agreed to it," she said just above a whisper. "I can only thank you. Oriel is a shadow of her former self, but she brightened immediately she was told what you proposed. Lagorn had the intention of marrying, but put that aside with all the trouble. Then as he made the arrangements, Oriel came back and he did not know what to do for the best. I could not like the idea of her going to stay with our cousin, but you have answered a prayer."
It wouldn't surprise him if Lagorn wasn't afraid that Oriel would contaminate his new wife. Imrahil bit down his urge to make a scathing comment, it would serve no purpose. "And what about you, my lady? You will miss her," Imrahil responded.
"Yes, but I want her to be happy. I want her to laugh again." She placed a thin hand on his arm. "Don't worry about me; I will go to my other daughter's, it will be better for Lagorn."
Imrahil didn't answer that and turned to Oriel instead. "You will like my sister. She is very forthright, but full of kindness."
Oriel looked up at him her big eyes full of unshed tears. "You are sure she wants me?"
"You will be doing her a favour. She gets a little lonely, and will enjoy having a companion."
He and Sergion stayed a time, really reassuring Oriel's mother that her daughter would be free to return at any time she chose. But Oriel looked to need no reassurance. Imrahil guessed that she just wanted to get away from her brother's over-solicitous protection, the curious eyes of the townspeople and the possibility of living with a cousin who bred cats. But after a short while he got up and said farewell, promising to confirm the arrangements for leaving in the next couple of days. Lagorn was all acquiescence, perhaps having had time to think, glad to have a problem removed.
He and Sergion kept counsel until they were back on the road, and then Imrahil turned to the two knights riding behind him. "I will be giving you some letters to take back to Dol Amroth. I want you to leave as soon as I have written them." Apart from an assent, neither man said anything, guessing he wouldn't explain. "One will be for Princess Ivriniel, and I am relying on you to get it there with no delay."
Sergion drew his horse closer, a slight frown on his face. "You really think she will be happy to give Oriel a home."
"Stop worrying. I have no doubt about it."
His friend's face lightened and he chuckled. "Well, you know her best. And I have to applaud you on your masterly handling of Lagorn, the poor man never stood a chance."
Today had gone well. Would that he would find it as easy to deal with Aearin. But that was for tomorrow. Imrahil flashed his friend a satisfied grin. "Lagorn did walk into it, didn't he? But I've done my bit now; the rest is up to you."
Dol Amroth TA 3021
Imrahil broke off as Meren let out a little squeak, and impulsively reached over to Sergion, her pretty face full of compassion.
"Oh, Sergion, I never realised. Poor Lady Oriel. I am so glad it turned out so well for you both."
Glad of the interruption, Imrahil took a much needed gulp of wine and studied his friend's face. Sergion looked remarkably placid, giving away none of the anguish of that time. Even now Imrahil marvelled at the patience and tenacity he had shown.
Sergion smiled at her. "In the end it did, Meren. But it took a while."
A typical understatement, but at least he had at last achieved happiness, even though they did not have so many years as could have been hoped. Imrahil flicked at a piece of fluff on his sleeve. Neither had he and Aearin. But all through the dark times Sergion had stood like a rock beside him, and maybe it had been his experiences with Oriel that had helped him to be so supportive to Lothíriel.
Meren sat deep in thought for a moment; undoubtedly reflecting on what could have so easily happened to her had not Elphir arrived in the nick of time. His eldest son, catching his eye and certainly thinking the same, pulled his wife against him and Meren snuggled closer. But she was still set on grilling Sergion.
"How long was it before you married Lady Oriel?"
"About two years. With Ivriniel's help, she gradually put the past behind her. I visited her as often as I could, and I taught her to ride."
"To ride?" That surprised Meren, but then it was something she would never consider herself.
Sergion nodded, failing to conceal a betraying smile. "She loved it. She loved the freedom of galloping bare-back along the beach, splashing through the surf. It was that which finally brought us together."
"Ah," Elphir flashed him an understanding look, "now I know why you could not part with Whitewing. But it must have been difficult letting Lothíriel ride her."
"Whitewing was Oriel's last horse, and her favourite. Seeing Lothíriel on her back was bittersweet for me." He shook his head, lost in a memory for a moment. "From a distance they looked very similar."
A shuffle, and cease of chatter from those around, made Imrahil look up. He saw that Aragorn had re-entered the hall. The King skirted around the few couples who were still dancing and headed towards them.
Imrahil rose to his feet and signalled to a guard for another chair. He grinned as Aragorn approached. "Duty done?"
Aragorn sat down next to him. "Fast asleep. And so is Arwen, just in case we have another wakeful night."
Aragorn accepted a goblet of wine passed by Elphir. "Have you heard the whole story?"
Elphir laughed. "All about the raid, and about Sergion's romance. But my father has yet to tell us how he managed to break down such high barriers to win my mother's heart."
"Hm..." Aragon took a sip of his wine. "I doubt it was easy, but worth it, I imagine."
Suddenly struck with a suspicion, Imrahil swivelled to look Aragorn in the eye. "Did you deliberately ask me to return that book, hoping I might fall for her?"
Aragorn raised his brows, a quiver of a smile on his lips. "I had no idea whether you might find her attractive, although something told me you would."
Imrahil waited, sensing something else hovering in the background. After a moment he gave a long suffering sigh. "Go on."
Aragorn let out the chuckle he had been holding on to. "I did know that she had no time for proud young men. I thought the experience might do you good."
Elphir burst out laughing. "Poor father. He had such a torrid time."
Imrahil glared at him. "I am glad you think it's funny. I've a good mind not to say any more."
"Oh, you couldn't be so cruel," Elphir said. "Never have you talked so openly about my mother. You can't stop before the end."
Imrahil hesitated, but Elphir was right. He took another sip of wine and sat back in the chair, looking around his audience who were all waiting expectantly.
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.